Pepper sat at the bar nursing her drink, butt dancing to the music Kenny and the Breakers were playing up on the stage. The Black Hole had a bad rep, and most anyone could have told her to avoid the place. Nearly all of the clientele had at least seen the back seat of a squad car in the best case, or more likely, served 2 to 5 in the state pen. The patrons were a mix of over the hill thugs, bikers looking for trouble, or folks looking to sell their wares, personal or chemical in nature, with the occasional clueless novice thrown in as a wild card.

Pop Riley regarded the lanky brunette sitting at his bar very much a wild card and figured there would be trouble. When she came in every pair of male eyes turned her way, and conversations stalled until she placed her order. After handing off a bottle of lite beer to her he reached under the counter to feel for the reassurance of his Maverick 88 pump action shotgun.

There were two other wild cards, a scruffy pair of drifters who had come in and taken up residence in the front corner about an hour ago. Both sat with their backs to a wall. They had wisely chosen a table near the door. They too seemed to be expecting trouble. They both openly leered at Pepper, and appeared to be egging each other on to get up and ask her to dance.

They soon lost their chance.

Wally “the Brick” Bargas noisily slid his chair out from his table, rose, and swaggered over to the bar.

“Hey ya, darling,” he said as he sidled onto the stool next to her. “What’s your name?”

Pepper regarded the burly biker with open disdain, then turned her attention back to her beer.

Wally leaned in closer. “You have a name, I assume?”

This time she favored him with a slight smile. “Pepper.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Nice name. I like ‘em hot. Want to dance?”

She shook her head, no, and took another sip from her beer.

Wally raised two fingers to Pop, who immediately placed two new beers on the counter between them.

“I think we should dance,” Wally said, grabbing her wrist. As he pulled her from the stool he also slipped a pill into her beer with the practiced move of an old hand.

The two men in the corner rose and drew as one.

“Police officers! On the floor.”

Pepper suddenly twisted, pulling Wally off balance, and threw him to the ground. She planted a knee firmly in his back as she yanked his forearm up between his shoulder blades. Three men from Wally’s table started to rise, but settled back when they saw one of the undercover cops had them covered.

Behind the bar Pop instinctively glanced to his right to see a gun aimed straight at him. He slowly and carefully drew his empty hand from underneath the counter.

As Pepper cuffed Wally three uniformed officers barged trough the door, weapons drawn.

“Everybody, put your hands where we can see them.” The detective covering the bikers aimed his gun at one of them, center mass. “You. Hands on the table.” The biker reluctantly complied.

The other detective worked his way down the bar and bagged Pepper’s spiked drink as well as Wally’s.

“You, OK, Sharon?” he asked Pepper.

“I’m fine,” she said as he helped her haul Wally to his feet.

“You like spiking ladies drinks, Wally?” the detective said leaning in close. “I’ll bet your DNA will prove most interesting.”

Sharon gave Wally a shove toward the door. “Let’s get this scum bucket downtown.” she said. “Man, I can’t wait to get out of these heels.”

© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


I was listening to the Diane Rehm show last week when the topic turned to gun control. As is the case in almost every discussion on the subject, sure enough someone called in to make the absurd declaration that some other weapon is used to commit more murders in the US than guns. Here is the snippet directly from the transcript:

Yes, ma’am, that would be correct. There are quite a number of laws that make it illegal to kill someone or to threaten someone or to rob someone. So regardless of the mechanism that I use for this, I could very easily — as the FBI showed in the — in their most recent data, use a hammer or a rock, which is much more likely to be a murder weapon than a gun.

All right. And, Ladd.

No, not all right. When people make very public and very wrong statements like this the media need to stand up and challenge them. Since this argument comes up almost every time gun control is discussed there is no excuse for the correspondent not to have done their research ahead of time in order to be prepared to correct the record.

According to the FBI statistics, there is NOTHING much more likely to be a murder weapon in the US than a gun. Not now, and not all the way back through the 1980s. You can look it up yourself if you don’t believe me. Snopes debunks George’s statement here.

Actual FBI statistics back up Snopes. The 2011 data (the latest I could find) is here. It shows there were 8,583 homicides committed with guns in the US vs just 496 accomplished by blunt objects, such as George’s hammers and rocks. And I can’t seem to recall a single mass clubbing in 2011 vs at least three mass shootings that same year. I’ll take my chances against a rock or hammer any day.

Similar stats hold true when you examine the historical data.

In 1980 guns accounted for more than 11,700 homicides, blunt objects 889. The 1990 stats are 12,000+ vs 1,109. The turn of the century saw the stats at just 8,172 gun homicides to 680 committed by blunt objects. I guess people were more worried about the Y2K bug than knocking off their neighbors. The 2010 stats are 8,190 vs 600. In all cases the second most common weapons of choice after guns are knives and cutting instruments, which pale in comparison.

So, shame on any member of the press who lets these kinds of statements go unchallenged. Important public debates need to be argued on their merits, not on made up truisms that come to be accepted simply because they are repeated so often. Please, do a better job in the future.



Max could hear it coming, the blare of the horn, the sound of tires not so much skidding as sliding through the slushy snow. He braced for the impact, tightening up reflexively when he heard the sound of metal grinding into metal. But the jolt of a rear end’r never came. He glanced into his rearview mirror and saw two cars entangled some thirty feet behind him. A late model VW had slammed into the back of an older Chevy Malibu.

“There but by the grace of God go I,” he mumbled under his breath.

An inch and a half of snow had fallen right before dawn, and that was more than enough of the white stuff needed to spell disaster in Greenville, South Carolina. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to drive in it.

While he was still trying to decide if he was getting out to help, or if that choice would be suicidal, another car – a green Subaru – slid into the back VW. The VW, in turn, once again slammed into the rear of the Chevy. The Chevy then lurched forward toward Max, and his beloved red Cadillac. He hit he gas, hoping to add more distance, but the wheels just spun in the slush. Fortunately the secondary impact did not have enough force to push the Chevy any closer than ten feet away.

That settled it, he was getting the hell off the streets. Just as he was about to ease forward the door of the Chevy popped open and the driver, a man in his late teens or early twenties, jumped out and started running.

Almost as a reflex action Max threw his car into park, yanked the keys from the ignition, and jumped out in hot pursuit. Old habits die hard.

“Hey you! Stop!” He shouted, forcing himself not to yell “Police.” That gig was over, and had ended badly.

The man made no indication of stopping and when Max tried rounding the corner of the Insurance Exchange building at a dead run his feet skidded out from under him and he fell – hard. By the time he collected himself the guy was long gone.

Must be stolen, Max reasoned as he tried swiping most of the cold wet snow off his clothing. The actions only served to push frigid water deeper into the fabric and make his hands numb. Why else would the guy run?

His attention was yanked back to the scene of the accident by the scream of a woman. A crowd was gathering at the rear of the Chevy, eliciting startled cries of dismay. Max walked back, limping a bit, and worked his way through the crowd. The trunk of the Chevy stood open, popped up by the impact. Max peered in, then staggered back a step. A man’s body curled inside, his face frozen in a leering grimace, lifeless eyes staring out upon the world.

He heard sirens approaching. “Everybody stand back,” Max ordered the crowd. Old habits again. He did not look forward to seeing his old compatriots.

What a way to start the New Year.

© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


Marlin Henderson glanced over at his partner, Bob Steele, searching for the right words. Bob still looked a little ashen, and his knee was bouncing up and down so hard the car shook when they stopped for the light.

Bob seemed to notice Marlin’s glance and looked over at him. Bob licked his lips a couple times before he was able to speak. “I guess there will be an investigation? Internal Affairs?”

Marlin looked back up at the light. “Yeah. Any time a gun is discharged. You’ve got nothing to worry about.” The light turned green. Before Marlin could proceed into the intersection an SUV raced through, just missing the nose of his unmarked car. Marlin’s gut reaction was to turn on the siren and give chase, but he swung back after just a slight swerve and continued on his way. Probably some soccer mom late to pick up the kids. Bob had seen enough excitement for one day.

They had staked out the home of Johnny McGuire’s mother figuring Johnny would show sooner or later. This morning Johnny was only wanted for questioning. Now he was facing a string of charges, including assaulting a police officer. Marlin could kick himself for letting Johnny get the drop on him. They had exchanged shots, then just as Bob came round the corner Johnny took off, cutting round the other side of the house, over a fence, and off through the tiny back yards of South St. Louis. Both Marlin and Bob gave chase. Bob, being twenty years his junior, quickly outpaced Marlin and disappeared down the alley in hot pursuit.

Marlin lost sight of Bob when he cut down a breezeway that ran between the businesses near Michigan and Cherokee. A few seconds latter he heard a single shot.

“Listen, Bob, I would have shot the kid. 99% of the cops on the force would have shot the kid.”

It took Marlin the better part of ten minutes to work out what had happened. As Bob raced down the breezeway a door partly hidden by a dumpster banged open. Bob whirled, expecting ambush, and drew a bead. But it wasn’t Johnny McGuire, it was some Vietnamese kid taking out the trash from his parent’s market. There was a split second for Bob to react. Bang!

“You did good, Bob. Most anybody else would have nailed the kid.”

By some miracle Bob jerked the gun away just as he squeezed off the shot. The bullet passed through the still open door, through the store’s interior, and shattered a display case before lodging in the front wall. When Marlin got there Bob was surrounded by angry Vietnamese, a wailing child, and a mother clutching her chest. She was later taken to the hospital for observation.

Bob looked over at Marlin, face stony, hard to read. “Jesus Christ, Marlin. I almost killed that kid.”

Marlin kept his eyes on the road. “Yeah, bucko. But you didn’t. You done good.”

They’d find Johnny McGuire. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not the next day. But they’d find him, the son-of-a-bitch.

© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

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Walk Up



Max slid the desk drawer shut. Funny how it no longer stuck once it was empty of contents. His case files were now in the hands of Detective Stiles, his badge and gun in the hands of Chief Alan. His reputation, at least within the Department, was in the toilet. His only friend, if he was a friend, remained Inspector Grant of Internal Affairs.

Grant warned Max when he first knocked on the IA door that he’d become a pariah. While no one liked a dirty cop, no one liked a mole even worse. By the time that first interview was over Grant had told him, “You’re going to have to stay tough to endure this.” He was right – it had been a rough six weeks.

“Don’t make a hasty decision you’ll regret later,” Bob Grant told him last night over coffee. Max sat there, staring down into his now cold joe saying nothing.

“So you’re going to do it?” Bob asked.

Max nodded. “No way I can stick around. They all hate me.”

“I’m sure they don’t all hate you.” Bob’s words, while kind, rang hollow. As if to accentuate Max’s claim a patrol car pulled into the slot just outside, headlights glaring into his booth – on high beams. The lights did not go off until Grant turned to make sure the officers in the car recognized who he was.

“I can’t work there any more. Police work is team work. You have to be able to count on one another…” Like Randy Kennan counting on Murphy to never say a thing. Max looked Bob in the eye. “Who there can I count on?”

Bob dropped his gaze.

He dreaded the walk out, though the now oddly quiet office. Only the occasional sound of the telephone disturbed the oppressive atmosphere. The eyes of even those on the phone followed him as he walked over to Captain Solomon’s pit to say goodbye. To his credit, Solomon came out of his glass caged office and wrapped an arm around his shoulder in what seemed a genuine farewell embrace.

“We’ll miss you around here, Max. Hate to lose a good cop.”

Max suppressed the urge to dismiss these words. He swallowed the ‘Yea, right’ which sprung immediately to mind and instead said, “Appreciate that.”

“You want me to walk out with you?”

“s’OK.” With that Max and his duty Captain shook hands, then Max headed for the door. Every eye in the squad room burned holes in his back. Just as the door to the hallway closed Max heard Captain Solomon bark orders to his crew to get back to work.

On the way to the stairs the hallway emptied before him. Officers suddenly had the need to change directions, duck into the rest room, suck at the drinking fountain. Even Alice, the dispatcher, needed to rummage in her desk just as he passed. Crap.

The echos in the stairwell to the basement sounded as hollow as his heart. Five years of his life wasted – for what? To put away a cop who put away a slime bag? But murder was murder and slime was slime.

The basement door took him through the locker room. Once again everyone was suddenly preoccupied.

Max turned the corner toward the exit and ran smack into Murphy, flanked by two of his friends.

“You dirty son-of-a-bitch,” Murphy snarled.

“Get out of my way, Murph.”

Instead Murphy’s two buddies, a detective and a blue, stepped up to completely block the hall – the patrol officer idly fingering his baton. Max made sure to note his name and badge number.

“You’re a real piece of work, Max. Randy Kennan was my partner for eight years.” Murphy took a step toward Max. “He was a good cop.”

“He wasn’t a cop, Murphy. He was a thug with a badge.”

Buddy Murphy’s right tightened into a fist.

Max heard movement behind him – hell, he was boxed in.

But Murphy forced his fist to relax, he rocked back a bit, a half step away. His two backups suddenly shifted to at ease.

“Hey Max, just wanted to say so long.” Max turned to see three people come into the hall. Officers O’Brien and Everett, from the men’s locker room, and Detective Watson from the women’s. The three moved forward, almost as one, to form a counterweight behind Max. The men’s door swung open again and Captain Solomon strode through, his face clouded in fury.

“Murphy, Kellerman – get back to work. I want that folder on my desk within the hour.”

Murphy managed to bump Max as he passed. “You better hope you never need a cop,” he hissed, then brushed past Detective Watson. Solomon shot Max a relieved look then turned back for the third floor himself. O’Brien and Everett gave Max a couple of pats on the back, told him to take care, then disappeared back into the men’s locker room.

Kelly Watson walked out to the parking lot with him. When he turned to say goodbye there was a tear in her eye.

“I’ll miss you,” she said wrapping him in a hug that surprised both of them.

Max disengaged awkwardly. “You’re a real friend, Kelly.” They hugged once more, lightly. Max turned toward the parking lot. Just before getting into his car he called back to Kelly, “Stay tough.”
© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

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