Sunday, September 23, 2012

On Police and heroism

I’ve read a lot lately about the disconnect between law enforcement and armed citizens. The discussion centers upon examples of police militarization versus cases of police heroism. Police risk their lives daily for citizens, so why is it that they don’t get more respect? More over, why is it that they don’t get more respect from the overwhelmingly patriotic ranks of the armed populous?

Before I go into specifics, I need to build some context. Although the average citizen believes that the police, TSA, FBI, and all the other acronyms are out there to protect them, the armed citizen knows better. Law enforcement exists to protect society as a whole and not individuals in particular. This isn’t my opinion, it’s established case law. Police have no obligation to protect the individual citizen; rather their job is to protect society from the individual. In order to accomplish this task, they are provided with great power and latitude. That power is somewhat tolerable because it is bound and directed to serve the good of the community; to wit, there are checks and balances established to protect citizens from legal excess. The point being that the protection afforded by the government is a byproduct of its mandate to protect society and not a personal duty to any specific taxpayer.

That’s all well and good if you’re an average citizen with negligible exposure to the thin blue line. However, if you are a gun owner than life is a bit more challenging. I say this not because firearm possession will call down the law, but because owning a gun holds a citizen to a higher legal and ethical standard. In my state of Maryland, gun ownership requires me to affirm that I am not a habitual drug user, drunkard, felon, mentally disabled, subject of a restraining order, as well as subjecting me to the infamous background check. There are a limited number of places I can legally take a gun outside my home. The gun has to be transported in a separate locked container from the ammunition, preferably in a different part of the vehicle. The legal right to carry, concealed or otherwise, is strictly at the State’s discretion. Owning a gun not only means that I have to conduct myself as a model citizen, it also means that the very act of transporting and using my guns is heavily regulated. Most of that regulation simply affirms common sense practices we would follow regardless. But whether I would follow those statutes on my own or not, they are still there. They loom over me every time I do _anything_ with my firearms. They cast a shadow over me when I’m hundreds of miles away from my gun safe. There is always that worry that an honest mistake or misunderstanding will cause the state to revoke my good-citizen status.

Let’s add to this picture the constant attacks by the media, gun control interests, and anti-gun politicians. There is an active movement in the United States to limit private firearm ownership, if not outright banish the practice entirely. Although guns are more socially acceptable than in the past, gun owners are regularly subject to ridicule and profiling, regardless of political affiliation, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or economic status. Outside of specifically gun-friendly zones, acknowledging firearms ownership can get one branded a racist, bigoted, ignorant reactionary or worse. So while the trend toward acceptance of firearms in America is great, firearm enthusiasts have to manage to the loudest, lowest common denominator every day if they want to be taken seriously.

That trend is frustrating, especially if you’re part of the scientific minded portion of the gun culture that studies optics, reloading, history, ballistics, metallurgy…etc. Reloaders have to work with chemical compounds, formulas, and precise machine tolerances. Long range shooters regularly employ complex math to deal with ballistic drop, wind, altitude, humidity, and velocity. Most of the shootists I know are well versed in history from the American Revolution onward if not before. It’s one thing to have your choice of football team questioned. It’s something entirely different to be branded an easily ignored idiot, especially when the root cause of that assessment is based on a hobby that involves proficiency with multiple branches of hard science.

These points are important because they explain why the average gun owner is so jaded when it comes to government. Government isn’t the enemy, but often agents of the government and society treat him as if he is a second class citizen, one step away from some terrible act of violence and intolerance. Firearms ownership requires me to ask permission to own and use a gun, something that the constitution specifically provides as an individual right. The operating assumption here is that gun ownership makes a person into a menace to society when statistics tell a completely different story. Every day gun owners have to deal with the fact that while they live within the limits of the law, the media consistently depicts them as monsters.

Now, let’s look at government agencies. Since 911, the powers of law enforcement have been greatly expanded through the patriot act and other legislation. Wiretapping without a warrant, detainment of citizens without charge, searches, and personal scans have become if not common, grudgingly accepted practices. The National Guard can be seen at airports and train stations. It seems like every other day I hear about swat teams knocking someone’s door down, like as not enforcing a no-knock warrant. Police wear bullet proof vests and carry ar15s in their cars. A recent product advertisement described a .50 caliber rifle as ideal for counter terrorism and drug interdiction. The TSA seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. The picture this paints to most of us who are already “concerned” about how government and society views us is not of a benevolent force constructed to respect and defend our freedom. Add to this picture the daily attempts by government to further limit rights that are already heavily regulated, and it can seem as though the government as a whole and police as an extension are simply waiting for gun owners to give them the slightest reason to bring down the wrath. Trust is further broken whenever a story is published that depicts police using excessive force, entrapment, and abusing civil liberties.

The average peace officer is a decent hard working person doing a difficult, risky, and often thankless job. The police I’ve encountered have always been polite and helpful. Most of the Leos I encounter in cyberspace are public servants who view their job as a sacred duty rather than a mandate to oppress (the more so since they are part of that same firearms loving community.) The challenge for the public is that we can’t assume that every boy in blue we run into is that considerate and civic minded. We have to guard against the lowest common denominator, which breeds a certain level of antipathy. It is that same peace officer who needs and deserves our respect who has the ability to complicate our life.

That is the heart of the afore mentioned disconnect. The Leos I encounter on line who act every day to truly protect and serve, often bemoan the lack of respect they engender. They see themselves as heroes, willing to sacrifice their lives daily for a seemingly ungrateful public, in this case a public comprised of fellow gun lovers. I imagine that must sting doubly hard, since the very people expressing those negative sentiments should be the ones most likely to support them. Yet it isn’t the individual that those sentiments are directed against, but that lowest common denominator I mentioned. Ask most gun owners how they feel about their country and they’ll tell you that they love it. Ask them how they feel about soldiers and police in general and they’ll tell you that they respect law enforcement. A love of firearms and patriotism have ever been bound together in the American spirit. Because of this, most gun owners I know support the police and military in the abstract. It is the practical, every-day potential for personal tragedy that gives us pause.

Finally, let’s look at Leos as heroes. More to the point, the desire that many soldiers and police have to be viewed as heroes. The most commonly accepted definition says that a hero is someone who does the ordinary under extraordinary circumstances. When a citizen uses a gun to defend themselves and others from violence, it affirms our belief that firearms are a tool that can prevent evil. We celebrate those individuals because we so rarely hear of Righteous defensive gun usage. Nobody expects citizens to stand against evil, they expect them to run and call the police, hence the extraordinary status. But what about the officer that responds to a call and does the exact same thing as the citizen? Isn’t he a hero? By that definition, no. We expect the officer to serve and protect. That is what he is there for. So we respect him for his courage and thank him for his service, but must raise the bar for heroism proportionally. Ultimately that is why many armed citizens become so offended at talk of the police as heroes. It isn’t that they don’t care, but that after 911 every first responder became a hero. The objection comes from the idea that being a first responder conveys the heroic title upon a person absent any comparable action on their part.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Orkid's Song: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Part 1. Ezekiel, Friday, June 5th. 8:00pm

He sat across the table, listening to his companion and reveling in her proximity. The voice that whispered in his ear was lecherously attentive to every detail of her appearance. The fact that women thought that he was interested in them purely for the sake of their minds never ceased to amaze him. They knew they were being courted and to what end, so it made no rational sense that they thought his blindness made him less interested in their physical charms. It was one more advantage he could claim, one more scent that brought him closer to the end of the hunt.

The content of their discussion was of no matter. She was a knowledgeable and captivating conversationalist, combining informed opinions with a seductive delivery. But it was the woman herself that interested him. Long red-brown hair, an exceptionally curved figure, and a golden complexion made her possibly the most striking woman in the cafe. As he responded to her most recent gambit, he sipped his wine and began stroking one of the petals from the table’s centerpiece. Mellal confirmed her attention being drawn to his motion. So he continued, sensually drawing out each caress while finishing his explanation of the history behind the topiary gardens in one of his client’s manners. He could not see her, but Mellal gleefully advised him of the tinge of color rising on her barely contained cleavage. Each motion of his finger intensified their mutual awareness. He ended his caress to brush his finger across the top of his wineglass and touch it to his lips. This was their third evening together. As of yet his charms had been resisted, but with ever slackening resolve. He tasted the wine and savored the anticipation. With great care he selected the next course. His personal tastes were catered too; both because his taste was impeccable and because he spent a great deal of money in the establishment. With teasing enjoyment he drew out the meal and the conversation. He luxuriated in the chase. When dinner had ended, he stood and offered the woman his arm. Calculating his gestures for maximum effect, he placed his cane on the table and guided her to the dance floor. He had long since established his personal table at this bistro and memorized its relative position to the floor. The dinner finished, the woman primed with food, wine, and conversation, he began the process of seduction.

It was an old trick from an old movie, but effective none the less. The music began at a moderate speed with a bracing calypso rhythm. Gradually the selections began to vary from slow waltzes to quickly moving displays of speed and grace. Throughout the hour he held her on the floor, he danced to a different but not dissimilar melody. He let his body brush hers from time to time, a hand on her back with a finger’s barely perceptible caress, pulling her intimately close so as to feel her breasts pressed against him, kissing her hand as he flung her wide, and making sure she knew that for this night, she was the focus of his world.

He had no illusions as to the permanence of the relationship he was crafting. The ephemeral nature of the romance added value; for what will soon be lost is treasured that much more.

The last dance completed, the dance floor clearing for the night, he asked her back to his boat for a midnight stroll. She rested her head against his shoulder as the limo conveyed them to his home. Thoughts of the night to come filled his mind. For a few moments, with the woman’s eyes closed and body pliant, he let himself anticipate what was to come. The bed on its polished wood platform was even now surrounded by tiny lights. Each bulb reflected a hundred times over in the mirrors that covered every available surface. The bed was a ten foot bowl of walnut filled with satin pillows. Having brought her into his inner most sanctum, he would undress her with deliberate slowness. Then he would spend an hour worshipping her body until, her senses set on edge, he would complete them. He would take her over and over again, until they panted for each other, until thought and words had been reduced to the rhythm of the act, until all was climax and thunder.

It wasn’t enough. It never would be enough. There would never be a woman who could completely satisfy him. But for now he would exorcize his demons as much as opportunity permitted.

Part 2. Michael, Friday, June 5th. 1:15pm

Idiots provide a valuable service to society. Intelligence and common sense are by no means found in comparable quantities, and my current informant was a classic example. When you want to get your hooks into a source, you have two methods of reeling them in. You can scare them, or you can make them dependent on you. At the rate Pedro Ortiz was going, he was going to do all my work for me. He just couldn’t stay out of trouble; and here I was, Michael Courtney, friendly special agent waiting to be of service...for a small favor of course.

I walked into city holding with Sanchez dogging my steps. We found the duty officer. We knew each other from way back. While we weren’t friendly, we both understood how the game worked. I pulled out a box of Havana’s finest and passed it over.

“So Jack, I hear our little bird’s back in lock up.”

Jack leaned his blocky chin on his clenched fist and smiled slightly.

“Yup. Got him on disturbing the peace and fraud if we decide to charge him.”

With a motion born of experience, he broke the seal on the humidor and examined one of the cigars. The aromatic scent of fine cured tobacco filled the air. Sanchez looked ill; Jack and I inhaled with relish.

“Caught him cheating at cards if you can believe it. He was using light up sneakers to tip off his partner. One of his marks tipped to the game and there was a fight.”

“Christ, Darwin, where are you when you’re needed? Sneakers...that’s too rich. Any problem holding charges for a bit? There’s stuff going down I need him for.”

A sour twinge made the veteran cop’s mouth turn down as he considered my question.

“I can maybe let him out pending charges being filed, but this isn’t getting swept under the rug. His mark isn’t going to let it drop. Don’t mind helping you boys out some times, but there’s only so much I can do outside channels.”

He ran a hand over the hardwood box I had given him with reverent care. Jack loved his Cigars; my access to the real thing had allowed us to establish a tentative working relationship. He wasn’t going to risk his job though. As it was we were both walking in a sort of moral gray area between departmental cooperation and bribery.

“Works. I can have him assigned competent probono defense. Can we see him in one of the rooms?”

“Sure. Leme finish his paperwork, I’ll have him in there in a few minutes. I’ll leave him to your tender mercies, but I’ll be watching and I’ll let him out only with the judge’s say-so.”

I nodded and motioned for Sanchez, who was eating up the gritty back and forth, to follow me back to the interrogation room.

The ten by ten was furnished in concrete and metal furniture, no frills, no pretense. If you were in here you were in trouble. A single bare bulb glared down, harshly lighting the walls with institutional indifference. The cinder block walls were broken only by the door we had come through and an opaque section of one-way glass that nobody had tried to conceal.

Sanchez paced around the room enthusiastically, alternately standing behind the chair our subject would be using and standing behind my chair, arms folded, his gaze doing its best to impersonate a thousand yard stare.

“So, I will be the bad cop yes? Maybe a few gentle reminders of whom he is dealing with no?”

“Sanchez, the kid is a failed matchstick man, not an enemy of the state. Besides, this whole thing is being recorded. I’ve worked with this one before. He’s small peanuts but he hears stuff. His family is into smuggling, contraband and immigrants. I’ve gotten him out of a few scrapes...he owes me.”

“Ah, so we will let him hang himself no?”

“Sure. The Nike bandit, master criminal, the sneaker overlord.”

Just then Jack brought the kid in and pointed at the hot seat like it was the electric chair from the green mile. He spoke with a cold, uncaring delivery.

“Sit, you try anything, it’ll go badly for you.”

He left, probably to watch through the glass of the observation room.

Pedro was a tall gawky kid, just past twenty with a swarthy complexion and blue-black hair. His face and build were thin, giving him a look of intelligence that his presence here belied.

“Mr. Michael, I am so-glad to see you. The police, they are making a huge mistake. The things with the sneakers, it is a big misunderstanding...I”

He smiled at me hopefully, channeling orphans and abused puppies with the skill of long experience.

“Pedro, Pedro, I am so disappointed in you. Here I thought you had learned from the last time with the camera in the hotdog. You are in so much trouble I’m not sure I can get you out.”

He fidgeted as the uncomfortable chair did its work.

“But Mr. Michael, I didn’t do nothing. This gringo, he has it all wrong. He does not like me because I is winning, and then he says Miguel and I, we are cheating. Then he starts in on the sneakers. I is asking you, what is wrong with my sneakers? I isn’t doing nothing wrong. You have to help me.”

Sanchez snorted. I folded my arms and leaned back in my chair and looked back at the would-be-card shark.

“Maybe, I can see about helping you Pedro, but this is serious. The man you were playing cards with, he isn’t going to let this go. Maybe I can get you a good attorney on the house, but I need something to give the police, something useful you know?”

Pedro got a crafty look on his face, what passed for craft with him, and his hands tightened on his chair’s arms.

“I is can help you Mr. Michael. My Cousin, she knows everything about everyone. You is just saying the word and I is getting it for you. I jus is needing a little time you know?”

Like candy from a baby. Who was I kidding; the kid never had a chance. His level of skullduggery maxed out with footwear with Christmas lights.

“I can help you Pedro, but we really need to find out about some of the Japanese people that have died recently. You know anything about that?”

Pedro looked puzzled for a second, an expression his face spent a significant amount of time assuming, and then his face changed over into a grin.

“You mean like the man who got tagged by the bus, and the woman who got mashed by the escalator?”

My attention sharpened. I hadn’t primed the kid; he had made the links himself. This looked promising.

“Something like that. Give me what you got kid.”

“I gots nothing, but my cousin, she is saying as how things different now, how we can’t use one of the ports any more. Jou know? She is saying how is serving the ninjas right for interfering with trade.”

“And you think she might know more about all this”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I is guessing she maybe knows who is knowing more.”

“That’s good Pedro, real good. Tell you what. I’m going to talk to the police and they’ll probably let you go in the morning. Sunday, we meet; you tell me what you learned. If it pans out, we do business. If it doesn’t...well the law is the law.”

The kid looked sick and shook his head vigorously. Obviously he was going to move heaven and earth to make sure he didn’t get road killed by the wheels of justice.

Sanchez followed me out of the station, one finger twirling his mustache distractedly.

“That seemed easy.”

I shrugged and laid one finger along side my nose and winked.

“Pedro, the information I get from him, it’s about as unusual as he is cunning. He’s an informational compass, someone I use to get me started in the right direction. This thing with the Japanese messing with his cousin’s trade, it probably doesn’t mean anything. He’s just quoting gossip.”

Sanchez stopped at his car and got in the front while I grabbed shotgun.

“So what, we wasted our time? You gave that cop prime tobacco for nothing?”

“Nope. I furthered my lock on a source and earned points with a local policeman. Things pan out, I get a big pay out. If they don’t, there’s still some up side to it.”

Sanchez pulled away from the curb and headed back to the office.

“Ok Michael. But I hope you know what you’re doing or the boss is going to be really upset.”

“Me too Sanchez, Me too.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Making of a gun nut.

I got “into guns” later in life than most of the people I know. My parents barely let me have a water gun, much less an actual firearm. Being legally blind didn’t figure into the equation; It was just they didn’t believe in that sort of thing. My grandfather had been a competitive shooter, hunter, and reloader, but by the time I displayed any interest he had long since sold all of his shooting irons. So when I decided to buy my first gun I was pretty much on my own.

At first, my interest was fueled by a desire to conquer the vague fear that my ignorance generated whenever my in-laws had guns around. They are hunters-all, and frequently were loading and cleaning around the holidays. The presence of firearms didn’t bother me as much as the fact that I had absolutely no idea of how to safely handle one. Thus the potential destruction I might have caused by even casual contact with their long guns (which were all safely stored and handled in my presence) spiraled out of proportion in my imagination. I don’t like fear, especially when I have the ability to do something about it.

So I started reading everything I could find about gun ownership, gun safety, ammunition, rifles, handguns, shotguns, scopes, self defense…etc. Somewhere, someone is laughing hysterically at that sentence. The amount of publicly accessible information on firearms is beyond comprehension. Wikipedia alone has so many interconnected links that I can still spend hours following twisty paths toward somewhat credible enlightenment. Add to that countless manufacturer websites, private reviewers, books, blogs, and online publications and it’s definitely an ongoing process.

After several months, I decided that I wanted “a gun.” That was pretty much a forgone conclusion from the outset. If I end up spending enough time on any subject, I’m going to want to get some skin in the game, be that miniatures, CCGs, RPGs, or guns. So the question became which one. As it turned out, Maryland made some of that decision for me. Buying a handgun in MD requires the buyer to pass a certification course and register with the state police. At the time I just wanted “a gun” and didn’t really want to go through any more paperwork than I had to. Intellectually I knew that it wasn’t likely to stay just one gun, but practically I decided to go about the process as if this purchase would be my only such acquisition. Oh, if I had only known.

The rest of the process was fairly simple. There was only one public range nearby where I’d be able to use my theoretical firearm. They only allowed shotguns and rifles in pistol caliber velocities. So, pistol caliber rifle or boom stick. For someone without a shred of practical shooting experience boomstick won hands down. As noted in one of my previous posts:


this was not one of my best decisions, but I didn’t know any better at the time. The internets said pump shotgun, so pump shotgun it was. My ego said 12 gage, so 12 gage was what I was going to get. Then it was down to the two most common models, the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 590. Again, with very little understanding of the practical implications of my choice, I picked the all-steel 870 over what I then thought was the weaker aluminum frame of the Mossberg. I found an 870 tactical model at Dick’s sporting goods (who have really great prices and fantastic customer service if you’ve never been there before.) A weak later I had my first gun locked in a carrying case…and no idea where to go from there.

I was well aware of the fact that while I owned a gun, I would never be able to responsibly use one without supervision, much less for home defense. Legally blind=no way to see where the rounds are going, hence breaking two of the four rules of firearm safety outright and the other two by implication. I was also aware of the seeming contradiction posed by a blind man owning and using a firearm. Gun ownership is a dicey subject at the best of times. My seemingly counterintuitive interest had the potential to strip me of the cloak of rationality and sensibility. To this day, I don’t hide the fact that I collect and use firearms recreationally. That said, I don’t advertise either. There’s simply too much chance for drama and misunderstanding when dealing with the uninformed.

Fortunately for me, K&B were raised in non hoplophobic households. As our best friends and people who tend to just shake their heads at my newest brand of crazy, they took C and me to Continental for my first real shooting experience, definitely my first with my new shotgun. In retrospect, I should have talked to them at the beginning of the process, but there’s a lot in my life I should have done differently that I didn’t have the forethought to consider at the time. We rented a S&W 686 and hit the shooting line. I’d like to say that Jeff Cooper and Masad Ayoob laid their hands on my shoulders in blessing, but really I spent most of the time following directions and trying not to screw up. It was a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind there was still that nagging worry that I would do something catastrophically stupid in a moment of inattention. C was raised in the afore mentioned in-laws house and so had none of my hang-ups.

If there was ever a moment when I was going to walk away from the gun world, it would have been then. Although I had a great time, the process of getting to the range, securing assistance, worrying about my own safety and all the niggling details that google and wikipedia can’t prepare you for weighed heavily on me in the following weeks. Two things brought me through the process with a modest amount of enthusiasm. First, the people who ran the range were the most accepting and supportive teachers I could have asked for. Most people choke up around “the blind.” They just don’t know what to do. Do I talk to them? Can they think for themselves? None of that shit at Continental arms. It probably helped that I knew how genuinely ignorant I was and that I sincerely wanted to better myself in that regard. Still, they made sure I had the knowledge I needed and gave me absolutely no crap about not being able to see. It’s become a running joke now that I’m a regular there. I think they enjoy looking at people who ask about my presence with a blank face and saying something like “yes, and?” That supportive joking environment removed a lot of my selfconciousness as well as giving me the necessary tools to safely enjoy the shooting experience.

Second, B was my unofficial range buddy for those first few months. She was willing to try any gun. She calmly sat by as I tempered my book learning with a dose of experience. It was just “one of those things” for her, and that too put me at ease. Since then I’ve accumulated several additional shooting companions. But back then it was just the giant blind guy and the little Jew woman every week or two. I owe both Continental arms and B a lot for those early months as I very much doubt that I’d be where I am now without their support.

Now I have several years of shooting under my belt, I own a variety of firearms, and I am a congressional member at said range. Guns are one of my two biggest hobbies. While I do enjoy the act of shooting, the process of modifying, equipping, researching, and upgrading my guns is the greater part of that enjoyment. I’m one of the least probable candidates for the title of gun nut, but even so, the shoe seems to fit.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Orkid's Song, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Part 1. Ezekiel, Thursday, June 4th. 7:30pm

He stood at the center of his domain. The teak rail formed a polished oval of oil, spell, and prayer. The boat was not as large as some in the marina; but what it lacked in sheer size it made up for in elegance. The 30 foot cabin was topped by a second smaller oval of teak railing which terminated at the bow in a wood and brass captain’s wheel. These too had been treated with the rituals of sanctuary and protection, rendering their inner circle doubly secure. Light illuminated various portholes, giving tantalizing glimpses of heavy wood furniture and thick carpet. This was his haven. The protection it afforded rendered it an island of soothing constancy in the midst of deliberate chaos.

He did not need these luxuries. The security of the marina, of his boat, of the social position he had earned were not necessities. They were a pleasant fiction crafted from wealth and guile. No, he did not require this fantasy, but he did enjoy it.

His business was centered upon foreign conglomerates which were not likely to hear about his proclivities or care were they to be discovered. His considerable wealth was distributed geographically, financially, and categorically. He was as secure as he could discretely make himself.

Slowly, he drew a curved dagger from his cane. The silver bird’s head balanced the weapon perfectly. This and the tattoo were the only remnants of his greatest folly. Even now he had to be vigilant against the legacy of that error.

With an economical motion he struck at a phantom opponent. He ran the ball of his thumb across the edge, drawing a thin line of blood. At the sanguinary touch, swirling runes seemed to swim to the surface of the black ceramic, chasing the crimson droplets.

Looking down at the instrument of his last resort, he knew that it was not his life that his pupils sought. They wanted completion of their instruction.

They would not come all at once. They would come to him as this first one had, probing and cajoling. Only in the last extreme would they resort to force. He smiled. They had known him as a formidable opponent in times past. He was more powerful than they could possibly imagine now. Let them come, yes let them come. He would teach them; though not the lesson they sought.

Part 2. Michael, Friday, June 5th. 8:45am

People don’t know how many times coffee has prevented tragedy. In my case, it is the restraining influence that keeps me from doing a little unscheduled cleaning of the gene pool. I think stupid people do what comes naturally whether I’m there or not, they’re just more likely to follow their instincts when I’m around. Whatever the reason, I got to work with a heaping dose of road rage on top of my headache. Aspirin seems to be less effective as I get older, or maybe the headaches are becoming resistant.

Whatever, I’m a big boy, I can take it. Anyway, I sat down to the glamorous job of a federal agent with a less than sonny disposition.

When you want to put the puzzle pieces of an event together, your best bet is to get as much data in one place as possible and then sort for common elements. People aren’t reliable observers. Your average citizen’s memories are tainted by what they want to have seen and by the details their mind fills in. Very few people are trained to remember event details in a precise and objective manner.

So, at 8:45am I was sitting in my office with my feet up on my desk, listening to a recording of a city patrolman questioning the neighborhood octogenarian. She just happened to be out with her little dog when my most recent victim decided to get up close and personal with public transportation. When Toto was doing his business she “saw the whole thing don’t ya know. Well most of it, from around the corner like.” At least she admitted that she hadn’t watched the event in 3d high definition.

I was starting to get into the swing of things, mechanically notating names, times, common elements, when the devil teamed up with Murphy to give me some really undeserved karma.

It started with someone whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith show outside my office. Then a smiling hulk of a man filled my door. He was balled with a huge handle bar mustache. His dark eyes twinkled with unnatural good cheer.

“Good morning Michael. It is a beautiful day no?”

“Sure Sanchez. Whatever you say.”

I paused the recording and looked at the guy questioningly. Julio Sanchez is either a want-to-be thug or a genius with really good taste, I can’t tell which. Today he was wearing a silk Tommy Bahama blazer, black slacks, a red polo shirt, and timberland boots that looked like they hadn’t seen a day on hard pavement. A single gold hoop pierced his left ear. Bulging muscles made his six foot frame seem larger than it had any right to be.

“I keep telling you Michael, the coffee; it’s no good for you. A little tea, a brisk five mile jog in the morning, you’ll be perfecto! I have your best interests in mind here Michael, especially since we’re partners.”

That did it. My feet hit the floor with a decisive thump. I leaned forward toward the idiot, murder in my heart, the fact that my boss was most likely downstairs providing my only source of restraint.

“We—are—not—partners. We have to work together, fine. I can deal with it. But, don’t you be saying we’re partners, because we’re not. You’re on special assignment for this project, that’s all.”

He grinned and walked over to grab one of my office chairs. He sat down and carefully checked the hang of his shoulder holster.

“The boss says we’re partners, we’re partners Michael. You’ll teach me the savvy ways of a special agent in charge. I will provide you with metric tons of fashion sense and suave sophisticated technical advice. Together we will save the country, break hearts and look oh-so-good doing it. Now, what are we going to do today?”

I opened my mouth to put this invader of my sanctum in his place but didn’t get to say anything before he barged ahead, one foot tapping incessantly.

“No, let me guess. I’ve read the case file, I’ve analyzed the evidence. Together we’ll infiltrate the occult adversary of the city. We’ll shake up a few of your informants on the street, I’ll be silent and threatening while you play good cop. We’ll interview the people at the hotel where the latest victim was staying, possibly a few single women in need of reassurance after yesterday’s tragic events no?”

I sighed, his enthusiasm putting paid to my anger.



“No. This is what I’m talking about man. You’re a scientist, a math man. What we do here, it’s not James bond.”

“Well of course not, he’s not as good looking as we are. And, we have bigger guns!”

So he wanted to be an agent did he? Well I could fix this little problem right now.

“OK. You want savvy special agent in charge, I’ve got just the thing. Follow me.”

I stood up and grabbed a few disks from my desk top and walked out the door, the prospect of finally putting Sanchez in his place adding a little spring to my step.

He and I, we don’t get along. He thinks my grumpy I’m-not-a-morning-person routine is an act. I hate morning people, really, seriously. He has this romantic view of what a special agent does. He buys expensive clothes, practices card games, says “Sanchez, Julio Sanchez” in the mirror, that sort of thing. Man knows his periodic tables, no question. But he thinks being a field agent is drinking martinis “shaken not stirred” and having a cup of Yin Hao with breakfast.

I grinned. Let’s see how he felt about being an agent after this.

---An hour and a half later---

“You know Michael; they have computer programs that take care of this kind of thing.”

“Shh, we’re getting to the good part.”

“Ah, the good part.”

Sanchez leaned forward, a fierce grin on his face, his eyes glued to the projection on the wall from the recorded security cam of one of the corner stores where my most recent victim had met his end. He looked like a kid at Christmas, waiting for his parents to bring out the really big gift.

He waited...and waited...and waited...

“Nothing is happening.”


“Michael, you said this is the good part.”


“You weren’t talking about the movie?”


“You’re a jerk Michael.”

“Sitting here, watching you, best part of sitting in an office chair for an hour and a half watching surveillance tapes.”

“You listen to music while you do this, play cards?”

“Nope, breaks your concentration. You might miss something.”

Sanchez turned away from the image on the wall and looked at me.

“Why? Working with me, I thought it was a good thing.”

I turned off the recording and rested my elbows on my knees.

“You ever get an intern?”

“Sure, all the time. Its part of working for the government, you have to Sheppard the young ones into flight.”

“Nicky gives you some critical evidence; do you give it to your intern?”

“Of course not. I do it myself.”

“Exactly. You are the king of the lab. You could probably beet me arm wrestling every time. I bet you’re the man when it comes to small talk, Doctor Sanchez and all that.

I got a job to do here man. I’d love to play Sherlock and Dr. Watson with you, but people are dead and Nicky wants this taken care of A.S.A.P. I don’t have time to screw around. It isn’t personal, it’s professional.”

Sanchez sighed and looked across the conference table at me. His shoulders slumped and his hands twisted in his lap. God, I love self-righteous ass kicking, but this was more like puppy kicking.

“You know why I joined DHS?”

“No life stories Julio, I feel bad for you but there’s not much I can do about it.”

He held up a hand to stop me.

“I want you to understand. When I got my second post doctoral degree, I had a choice. I could have started teaching or working for the private sector like most people at my level. There is much money in those areas, especially if you have cross-disciplinary degrees, which I do. I come from a poor family, and my father always used to tell me that if I was so smart maybe I’d help someone some day.

So, I joined up with DHS. I wanted to be a field agent, but they said I was over-qualified. You know, I blew all their tests out of the water, but they wanted me to play with peetry dishes and Bunsen burners. They wanted to say that Dr. Sanchez worked for them and isn’t that a long resume he has.”

He held his hands a few feet apart and winked suggestively at me.

“So I told Nicholas I was tired of being too smart and I wanted a transfer over to a field office. He told me that if I could make myself useful to you, then he might consider my request.”

I took a second to really look at him. He was fit and well dressed; the picture of what the agency wants their dashing young men to present to the public. His eyes were old though. They were intent on me, not begging or expectant. He was determined, focused, driven.

“Why’d you pick homeland security? You’re a smart guy. There are lots of other agencies where you could make a difference where the ladder wouldn’t be as hard to climb.”

“Some people, a war starts, they say they want to serve their country. They stick their chests out and join the coast guard or the fire department. Some people, they believe in what their country stands for, they join up, they enlist, they take the oath and ship out to fight the good fight. We need the coast guard, the firemen; they put their life at risk for others all the time. You know what I’m saying here?”

I nodded at him and made a motion with one hand to continue.

“I saw the towers fall, the burning pillars crumble. I want to be part of the agency whose name begins with “homeland.” I don’t want to sit in a lab and write up reports, I want to walk the walk and talk the talk. Lots of people say it; they want to serve their country. They just want to get promoted, to talk the talk. I can’t look in the mirror and tell myself I’ve done something worthwhile in the lab. Important, necessary, but not worthwhile.”

He lapsed into silence, holding my gaze. There’s not much you can say to that.

“You want to make a difference?…You want me to show you how to kick ass and take names so that Nicky will make you a full time field agent?”


“I don’t have time to be nice to you Julio. The I have a dream speech doesn’t mean you have what I need or that you have what it takes to do the job. Do you understand what I’m saying?”


“OK, I’m not Ramirez and you’re not Conner Macleod of the clan Macleod. I tell you what to do; you do it, no questions.”

He just shrugged and made a flicking gesture with one hand.

“You say jump, I say how high?”

“Exactly. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to go out for lunch. You’re going to get changed into a plane-Jane suit, something a little more government and a little less drug dealer. Then when I get back, we’re going to talk to a contact of mine. We set?”

“Can do sir.”

There was a little bit of mockery in the response, but not enough to matter.

“Oh, and Julio?”

He stopped, half way out the door, not wasting any time.


“Geek squad does make a difference, even if they do it with pocket protectors.”

“You have no idea how much we socially inept individuals value your high opinion.”

He turned and left. I stood up and made my way toward my favorite local spot for a liquid lunch. The word “partner” makes me nervous, but aid, apprentice, those words I can work with on a temporary basis.