Sunday, April 28, 2019

Justified Actions

Over the years I have met quite a few people who work in law enforcement. I also have some relatives in the field as well, including Bubba, a nephew who has been with a suburban Detroit department for a couple of decades or so.  Last weekend we got together and were trading stories.  

One tale Bubba described involved him supervising some younger patrolmen one night. They received a call from a hotel, asking them to evict the guests in three rooms who were disturbing others.  Bubba leaned against the wall in the hallway as the officers took care of the first two rooms. But it was the third room where the issue arose.  

Apparently this occupant was being less than cooperative. Without getting physical, he kept arguing with the officers, repeatedly asking why he had to leave and what the problem was. Bubba gave it a couple of minutes but nothing changed. He walked in. The guest was on the bed, hidden by the covers. 

“Get your shit and get the f… out! Now!” Bubba growled, immediately taking charge of the scene.

The guy said, “Okay!” He tossed off the blankets, revealing that he was fully dressed, and scurried from the room. 

Bubba used this as a training moment. He reminded the younger cops that there are times when you have to take charge of the situation. Bubba also pointed out that they should have pulled the blankets from the bed, so they would have known if the guest had a weapon.  One of the officers claimed that didn’t want to be too aggressive for fear of getting into trouble.

“If he had a gun and shot you through the blankets, that could be trouble,” Bubba said.  He was grinning as he recounted this story, stating that there are times when such actions are justified.

That got me thinking about one of my favorite fictional characters, Raylan Givens from the creative genius of Elmore Leonard.  Raylan could best be described as a 19th century lawman working in the 21st century.  At times he took a different approach to catching the bad guys.  Leonard’s character was so good, he ended up in the television series “Justified.” 

I mentioned this to Bubba and encouraged him to check it out. While it’s doubtful the methods Raylan uses would be acceptable today, they are certainly entertaining. 

Jefferson Chene doesn’t bend the rules as much as Raylan Givens, he does have a moment or two that takes him outside the lines. Here’s an excerpt from “Your Turn to Die”.  In this scene, Chene and Detective Ramon Suarez are leaving an interview with reputed mobsters Leo Agonasti and Maximo Aurelio that takes place aboard a yacht, when they run into an unexpected roadblock in the form of a guy named Thompson.

“What do you think you were doing? No one’s supposed to run this barge but me!” Thompson pointed a dirty finger in my direction. Up close I could see the tank top was stretched to the breaking point over a stomach gone to seed long ago. 

“Step aside.”

“No way. I don’t like strangers running my boat!”

“I believe the yacht you are referring to belongs to Mr. Agonasti.”

“When I run it, it’s my boat.” Again Thompson jabbed his finger at me. From above me I could hear the snort of muffled laughter. Max must have come forward to watch the show.

“I’m only going to tell you once more. Step aside.”

Thompson surged forward, his finger thrust out before him like a miniature lance. “I’m not stepping---”

I grabbed the finger and bent it backward, twisting it enough to snap it, but turning with it to spin him around. With two strides, I ran him face first into the large wooden piling that held the lines for the yacht. I could hear the crunch of bone as his nose broke. Thompson howled in pain and tried to break free. I gave his arm a shake, then snatched the cap from his head and got a handful of greasy black hair. I thumped his head once more on the piling for good measure.

“Listen up, asshole. Number one, your presence on this yacht is no longer required. Number two, you just tried to assault a police officer. That’s a chargeable offense. Number three, if you bother my friends there in any way, shape or form, I’ll come back and finish this. And believe me, you won’t look any prettier when I get done.”

I released his hair and wiped my hand on the back of his shirt, then let go of his arm. Stepping back, I prepared for the inevitable retaliation. I wasn’t disappointed. Thompson spun, blood dripping down his face and charged. The walkway was only three feet across. I had to time it well. As he launched himself at me, I spun to the right and dragged my left foot, hooking his ankle as he went by. Lacing my hands together, I swung around, completing the spin and driving both hands into his back like a hammer. Thompson flew beyond the edge of the walkway and dropped into the canal.

A roar of laughter floated down from above. Agonasti had joined Max at the rail. Apparently they enjoyed how the confrontation played out. Agonasti sketched a brief salute in my direction as Suarez and I headed for the parking lot.

“Where the hell did you learn how to do that?”

“You think you’re the only one who ever rumbled with gangs?”

“Ain’t no gangbanger I’ve ever seen move like that.”

I shrugged. “Sometimes, you improvise.”

This week’s musical interlude is from one of Detroit’s favorite sons, Bob Seger. Enjoy. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Chance Encounters

A couple of weeks ago I was part of an event at a local bookstore, where four authors who write mysteries got together for a short panel discussion. After introductions and brief biographies were shared, we fielded questions from the thirty or so people in the audience. 

Afterwards there was time to talk privately.  I was approached by a lady named Sue. Turns out that she has extensive experience working with cadaver dogs. That got my attention in a hurry.  We made arrangements to meet so I could learn more about the training and her background.

Last week we met at a Tim Horton’s donut shop.  For almost two hours, Sue explained about her education and training in veterinary medicine and her work with law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada.  She even shared some videos of training with dogs, teaching them how to search and how to signal when they made a discovery.   

Parts of our conversation may have been uncomfortable for the old fellow who took the booth behind me, especially when we discussed flies and maggots and mummification of bodies. 

But this was priceless information. As a writer, I’m always alert to learning more about someone’s background, especially when it’s out of the ordinary.  So that chance encounter at a bookstore has led to a new resource.  This has happened before, when I needed to know more about firearms or technology.

Chance encounters. 

You just never know when such information may come in handy.

Writing about chance encounters reminded me of Holly, a young lady I met years ago who was an aerobics instructor. During a conversation she also mentioned teaching a pole dancing class as a form of exercise. After Holly described it, I knew that would become a part of Jamie Richmond’s “Vanishing Act”. 
In this scene, Jamie and her best friend, Linda go to the home of Madeline, their aerobics instructor for a semi-private lesson in pole dancing.

“Okay, ladies,” Madeline said as she entered the basement, “let’s all relax. We’re going to have a few laughs and learn some things. I guarantee you will feel like you’ve had a good workout when you’re done, along with a good time. Help yourself to a drink and find a seat.”

Once we all settled into a chair, she began the lesson.

“No matter how old you are or how flexible you are everyone can do these moves. It just takes some practice. It’s a lot like being a kid, playing on the jungle gym or the swing set.”

Linda gave me a look. “I recall you always falling off the swing set.”

“Hush. That was years ago. I’m much better at it now.”

Madeline picked up on our exchange. “Falling is part of learning. You’ll notice that in the beginning we’re going to take it slow and I’ll be right next to you. And remember that falling is inevitable. What’s important to remember is that when you do land on the floor, you get up sexy.”

Bernadette, one of the older women from our class, roared with laughter. “Get up sexy? At my age, I’m lucky to get up at all.”

Madeline beamed a smile. “Trust me. By the time we’re done tonight, even if you trip over your own feet, whoever you’re dancing for will not notice that you fell. They will be too focused on the way you get back up. And it will be sexy.”

    With that, Madeline turned on the stereo and flipped on a song with a slow, sultry beat. She began to move around the pole, explaining how she placed her hands and where. All the laughing and comments faded away quickly as we watched her move. She was graceful, using the pole as a dance partner, swaying against it. When Madeline lifted both feet off the floor and wrapped her legs around the pole, every one of us was watching intently.

    After showing us some basic moves, we each got a turn on the pole. At one point, it looked like a chorus line as Madeline had us line up before the mirror and practice some of the steps. Linda’s face was flushed and she couldn’t stop laughing.

    “You know this really is a good workout.”

    I agreed. “I thought we were in pretty good shape, but we’re using muscles I didn’t even know I had.”

    Madeline encouraged us to change into our shorts and heels. There was a great deal of laughter now as we each learned new dance steps, some of which involved the pole, others a chair. As each of us took our turn with the pole, we did, in fact, end up on the floor and find a way to ‘get up sexy’.

    When it was Linda’s turn with the pole, she yanked the clips from her hair and shook out her curls. Then as she did each move, she would toss her head. When she was on the floor, she tipped her head forward and her eyes were hidden by that luxurious wave of hair. Slowly, she wiggled forward and got back to her feet. Everyone was cheering and applauding. I could only imagine a guy’s reaction to that pose. I hoped Vince was taking his vitamins.

    Inspired by her efforts, I tried my best to master the dance steps. I thought I did fairly well, but my version of the ‘get up sexy’ move definitely left something to be desired. A few of the women cheered. A few more were laughing. And Linda did her best to be supportive. She gave me a hug after my routine and spun me around.

    “You did it, Jamie. I can’t believe it, but you did it.”

    “What did you think of my moves?”

    She couldn’t help but laugh. “When you use those on Malone, maybe you should make sure the lights are off.”

Lots of blues on the airwaves this week, including an old favorite from Stevie Ray Vaughan.