So last night, Christmas Eve, I’m out doing my thing.
Making traffic stops and laughing with people who are either 1) anxious to get home to see family, or 2) already hellaciously ready to get away from family because…you know…holidays.
So I make a stop and, like always, ask where the lady is heading and why’s she driving so fast.
“Going to church.” She pointed. “Right over there.”
“Yes, I’m running late. I need to get there. It’s Christmas Eve. I play the organ.”
She wasn’t quite laughing but close. Her companion was laughing his ass off. I got the impression that she defined the concept of straight arrow and getting stopped was probably in the top five horrific things she could imagine.
“Ah,” I said. “Gotcha. Well, let me ask you: you have any warrants?”
Her companion, I thought, was well about to pee his pants.
“Warrants? For Heaven’s sake no.”
“No murder? Pillaging? Maybe snatching one of the pipes from the church organ.”
Yeah, she actually said it. Made me laugh.
So I do my thing, warn her to be careful, and send her on her way. I probably only had her stopped for four or five minutes so she was going to be fine. They both chuckled as they drove away.
So twenty minutes later, I’m heading back on the same state highway,the other direction, and I stop a biiiiiiig old Cadillac that reminded me of my Mom’s Buick Electra 225 circa mid ’70s.
I walk up to the lady and ask where they’re going, do they know they have a headlight out, etc.
“Going to church.”
“Really?” I mean, I know it’s Christmas Eve, but two in a row?
“Yeah, just right over there.” She pointed to a church.
I stared. “Right there?”
“I mean that one…right there?”
I laughed. “When you get there, tell C**** D*** hello from Sergeant Barker.”
The lady looked confused. I winked at her and said, “Tell her to slow down.”
I laughed, she laughed, her companion laughed, and I sent her on her way.
So later I’m eating dinner and, I swear to whatever you hold holy, I heard a church organ. And it didn’t creep up on me, it exploded! And not just any church music, but this one
So…just keep in mind that if anything happens to me over the next few weeks, somebody go back through my traffic stops and talk to her…’cause I’m just about sure that it’s probably not good form to get after the church organ lady.
Seventeen years an on-again, off-again journalist, more than ten years a fulltime cop, and Trey R. Barker’s new mystery series starts on day one.
“…utterly believable,” is how Kirkus Reviews describes Trey R. Barker’s newest novel, Slow Bleed. [Read more…]
It wasn’t even my case.
I mean…it was…but it wasn’t.
Part of what I do is catch on-line child predators.
I see the absolute worst of what people can do to children and hunt those who want to see what was done. But I also see victims get help. I see bad guys arrested. I see them tried and convicted and sent to prison.
This case was the first I had generated that fell outside my jurisdiction. I had never worked with these particular officers before and had no idea how they did their work.
I showed up for the briefing and got introduced as “…the guy who dumped this on us.” Strained chuckles all around! Cops aren’t stupid, they know child pornography exists, but few want to work a case that could take a year to get to trial. They simply don’t want to swim in the filth that long.
The briefing was…uh…SHORT. Mine tend to go at least an hour but the detective in charge had us in and out in less than five minutes.
“Uh…what about his job? Will he even be home?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” the detective said.
“Anybody else at the house?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Dogs? Like vicious Trey-eating dogs?”
I’m a high information detective. I want to know everything about a suspect and location. Who lives there? Children? Weapons? Criminal history? What kind of cars? Where do they work and what hours? Animals? Hell, even what kind of music they like (which can be good to know when I’ve got their computer cracked open searching for files).
This less-is-just-how-we-do-business approach did not make me happy.
When we arrived at the target’s house, we knocked. And knocked. And knocked.
Eventually, a woman answered. We told her who we were looking for, she said he was still asleep, and promptly tried to close the door.
There were four of us. We shoved the door open and went inside, two to the right and me and another guy to the left.
It was then I heard the most ferocious banging I’ve heard since I was marching quads in Drum Corps International in 1982.
My first assumption was that the suspect was throwing crap around looking for a weapon.
My own weapon out, I headed for the bedroom. As I went down the short, narrow hallway, I passed a bathroom and threw an eye in to make sure he wasn’t there.
With his laptop computer.
And a 15-inch crescent wrench.
He was smashing the wrench against the laptop, having broken both corners of the bathroom vanity off while banging the computer against them.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, I’m sure it was pithy and authoritative, but actually probably something like, “What the fuck?”
I grabbed him by the collar and yanked him out of the bathroom.
Note to self: tangled together in a tight hallway, gun in right hand, bad guy in left hand…c-wrench in bad guy’s right hand, still swinging through the air? Bad tactical arrangement.
The detective I was with, thankfully, blasted into the hallway and we snatched both computer and wrench before anybody got hurt.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
And he said? Come on, you can guess this one.
‘Cause I always do nothing with a giant wrench, a laptop bent in the middle, and two broken vanity corners.
He told me later that he had tried to destroy the computer because of anger issues. He was upset his wife had answered the door. It didn’t have anything at all to do with the copious amounts of child pornography we found on the machine.
Or what about the guy we arrested a couple weeks ago, who blamed his child pornography on arousal problems with his wife? (As though looking at a five-year old could get the machinery working.) Or the guy I had two years ago who, after being convicted as a sex offender and serving his time, sent nearly 30,000 text messages in three months to underage girls? Or the guy who said his brother-in-law had downloaded all that kiddie porn…except for the thousands of images I found on his computer downloaded after his brother-in-law was arrested?
I was thinking about all this today after reading some articles about an editor I once knew who pleaded guilty last December to three child molestation charges. At one time, he had been a well-respected editor in the science fiction/fantasy/horror worlds, but in 2000, he was charged with the three counts.
Yeah, you read that right. Charged in 2000…pleaded guilty in December, 2013.
He did everything he could to delay the trial that he said would clear him of any wrong doing (that’s a clue, people). He found religion, he tried to emigrate to Israel, and he filed more than 370 motions and complaints about how he was being treated. He ended up getting incredibly lenient bond conditions and house arrest (don’t travel out of state, don’t have any direct or indirect contact with minors, and call the authorities once a week to let them know he was still in Atlanta).
But he couldn’t even follow those simple rules. In 2011, he was caught in Connecticut (which, last I checked was not in Georgia), in a hotel room with a 14-year old boy, who answered the door for the police wearing nothing but a towel.
He fought extradition back to Georgia for two years. Two damned years! When he finally arrived back in the Peach State, he pleaded and took 36 months of house arrest (no prison because of massive health issues) and was told, again, no direct or indirect contact with any minors.
Which he allegedly violated again in the last couple of days…hence the new articles.
I look back, from the viewpoint of more than 250 hours of training and two+ years of chasing these guys down, and see all the warning signs. Things that meant nothing to me in 2000 that are red flags and shrill whistles now. Behavior, repeated behavior, excuses and lies, that I’ve seen constantly from all of them.
Every. Single. One.
It’s a tough job, dealing with child pornography and those who travel to have sex with children, but one that I love dearly. Listening to the clickety-click-click of the cuffs being slapped on? Not even Rush live in concert is better than that. I love arresting these guys.
Why? Because, yeah, children need to be protected.
But also? I love the hunt. I love the paperwork and analysis, tracking bits and pieces here to there and back again, figuring out how and where they’re hiding and where they’ll go next.
What did Kilgore say? “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Well, I love the smell of the hunt, earthy and dirty, adrenaline-filled. And I love watching their eyes early in the morning when they open the front door and see me and my team. I always see the wheels start turning as they invent the reasons why they did what they did (which they usually blame on the children).
I love hunting those who are hunters. They are predators and chances are extremely high that those who are merely looking at child pornography now will eventually molest children. They hunt for children and I, in turn, hunt for them. Are they smarter than me? Can they slip past me? Yeah, probably some can, but thus far, I’ve done pretty well.
And I’m only getting better.
That’s my first memory of him. I think it was during one of our long runs and we were both done with running. He expressed himself while running so what actually came out was more along the lines of “Fu..u..cki..ng…bull…sh…it.”
My most vivid memory of him? We’d sussed out a local barbeque joint, something we did about every other week or so, and had ordered like pigs: brisket, beer, sausage, beer, beans, beer, coleslaw and cornbread, beer…beer. Yeah, yeah, I can remember him drinking but what I really remember is sauce, deep red and flecked with all manner of black spices, slathered over his chin. Watching his little pink tongue slither out and lick away the sauce was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen.
But my last memory of him?
Draped with an American flag, surrounded by endless bouquets of flowers, his Air Force helmet in the coffin with him, his face much more stern in death than I had ever seen it in life.
Casey was my friend. For twelve weeks at the academy, Casey was my work colleague. For many of those weeks, Casey was my barbeque compadre.
Casey was also a police officer…a canine handler to be more precise.
And now Casey is dead.
Hit by a drunk driver; killed on a rain-soaked stretch of I-55 in north-central Illinois on October 30, 2013.
I’ve not had that many good friends dance with death. I remember when writer Sean A. Moore died in 1998 and how numb I was about that and for how long. I didn’t know Casey as well as Sean, but I can feel that same numbness in my head and heart now.
At the police academy, Casey had first struck me as world weary, unsurprised by anything. But as I got to know him better, I realized he was excitable but when he was dealing with victims and bad guys, with issues and concerns, he affected an outer calm that did an amazing job of calming down both the scenario role players and the other police recruits.
What I didn’t know, until his funeral, was that Casey had decided early on in life he was going to be a police officer. He rode with the local department constantly and then joined the Air Force and tested for the Pontiac Police Department almost the moment he got home.
So yeah, he was a good cop, even as a recruit. And yeah, he was a great cop on the road. A k-9 officer, a member of a multi-jurisdictional task force, had detective’s training. He was a monster and I’m sure he did great things for people that I’ll never have any idea he did.
But all his good cop-ing aside, what I remember most, next to the barbeque sauce, was how his calm helped me get through something new and alien to me. He’d decided young to be a police officer but I’d decided young to be a writer. I had no experience in law enforcement at all when I hired on at the Sheriff’s Office. After three years in the jail, which was small and rarely had any problems at all, they put me on the road.
The situations those instructors talked about – barricaded subjects, hostages, shoot-outs, domestic violence with knives and guns, murders, sexual assaults – were completely new to me. I was absolutely out of my element.
Casey helped me get through many of those scenarios. He, a 22-year old kid, taught this 40-year old almost every time we went out together.
And we ate a crap load of barbeque.
Can’t ask for much more, right?
I have no idea what the count was at his funeral. I heard from a couple of people that 1,000 police officers attended, that there were more than 600 squad cars in the mile-long processional. Do I believe that? Maybe…maybe not. But regardless of the number, it was an impressive turnout.
During the procession to the cemetery, we snaked back and forth through town. Every intersection was closed, nearly every business with a temporarily closed sign hanging in the door. There were, no hyperbole, thousands of civilians along the route. Many saluted, many waved American flags, most filmed the procession. Some just stood, looking stunned at their hometown hero, had been snatched out of their collective hands so senseless and quickly.
Casey was imbued with the terrible ferocity of duty and the horrific beauty of service. He wanted to serve his town and his family and friends and even people he didn’t know. He knew that serving, and that duty, carried a terrible price. Not always death, but in what he saw, in what he learned about the human condition and both the amount of suffering, and amount of love, humans bestow on each other as every second ticks past.
From the first moments I knew him, Casey wanted to serve and to help, as much as a cliche as that sounds like. Yeah, he wanted the adrenaline calls and the excitement of being a police officer. But mostly he wanted to help those around him.
Which is why it hurts so badly to know that when he needed help, when his SUV had been crushed by a man who’d spent better than five hours, according to the video footage, drinking at a bar, I wasn’t able to help. I wasn’t able to warn him off of that particular stretch of road, or have him pull just a little further into the turn-around where the drunk hit him.
He probably wouldn’t have listened to this old man, anyway. Out on that highway, with his canine partner, being a police officer and serving his city, was the only place he wanted to be.
Godspeed, Casey, we’ll all miss you dearly.
It’s the end of the novel. George Webber has been to New York, Paris, Berlin. He’s spent the entire novel searching for his childhood, for what he lost when he moved to the sophistication of elsewhere.
He says, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame…back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
I went home to Midland recently and I became, for a few hours, George Webber, the protagonist of Thomas Wolfe’s brilliant novel, You Can’t Go Home Again.
It’s been a tough year and I needed to get some distance and just…play…for a while. I’m not going to crybaby about how hard it is to be Trey R. Barker ’cause I got a pretty damned good life, but I did need some downtime.
So that last morning, before I drove north to Lubbock, I spent nearly three hours driving through my childhood.
The three hours put me in mind of not only George Webber, but also Leonard Cohen’s song, Tower of Song. “Well my friends are gone and my hair is gray, and I ache in the places I used to play.”
Webber was right; you cannot go back to that childhood. I knew that, intellectually, but I don’t think I did in my heart. Maybe my heart was in a different place than it was three years ago when I visited. Maybe my head was in a different place. I know for sure my soul was…it’s been a long three years since that last trip.
When I was growing up, my neighborhood was lower middle class at best. There was some money toward the end of the early 80s oil boom, but Mama and I never lit cigarettes with $100 bills. She worked incredibly hard and I started working when I was 10 years old.
But now, every street of my childhood, every house and business, was steps below where she and I had been. So many houses were tired, in desperate need of paint, their breath less a second wind than a rattling, hopeless exhalation. Cracks spidered some windows, some storm doors hung crooked or stood open, other doors had holes in them just about the height of a swung foot.
Every lawn, and I mean every single lawn, was a sea of dead grass or had already given up completely and let the blowing dirt take over and return those lawns to the very picture of what greeted visitors 150 years ago even before Midland was called Midway.
Midland has been in the midst of a harsh drought for better than three years and some projections have it going until 2020. It is horrifying enough that people are talking about turning sewage into potable water. Add to that a town that is dead center of the current oil and gas boom, a town that has swollen to 120,000 on an infrastructure built for far fewer than that, a town that cannot even begin to handle the vehicle traffic and transient workers, a town that cannot house everyone it needs to work its industry.
But my sadness was because there was no color, literally or figuratively. I saw were houses that, when painted, were painted the same color – tan, beige, sandstone, eggshell – as the surrounding desert. They seemed to disappear into the dirt, the sand and caliche.
When I was a child, my world was afire with color.
“Sure, Trey, but back then, you had no responsibilities.”
Straight up. I had a job early on and we were poor but my only real responsibility, other than baby sitting my younger brother and terrorizing him, was to be a kid. To the degree she could, Mama made sure of that.
Every house had color. Ours was a charcoal gray and I remember at least two greens, at least one chocolate brown, a kind of pink thing, and for some reason, I want to say a kind of orange thing…though I might be making the last one up, and a few houses roofed with red shingles.
Every yard was green and Saturday mornings were like freakin’ Grand Central Station with people outside up and down the street. Working in their garages or on their yards or walking the dogs, nearly all of us kids playing tackle football in the street ’cause a little blood was cool, right?
But when I drove down those streets on that Saturday mid-morning, past the houses where I could still hear each kid’s voice and remember damn near every kid’s name, they were empty. No one outside, no dogs barking, no TVs or stereos blaring.
Nothing except the color of the desert. None of the vibrancy of my childhood. None of the color of my childhood.
It’s possible that my childhood haunts hadn’t lost their color. It’s possible that seeing them through eyes brimming with adult responsibilities and bills and dreams not broken but certainly redirected, had stolen the color that I remember.
“You can’t go back home to your childhood…back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time….”
So said George Webber, or Thomas Wolfe if you prefer, and maybe they were both right.
On the other hand, the trip home was effing awesome and exactly what my soul and heart and head and love needed…with the exception of three lonely hours on a Saturday morning.
Come back in a few days, kiddies, and we’ll talk to drunks and cops, we’ll see the aftermath of a cop getting shot multiple times, we’ll do some shooting, we’ll have our flight canceled and we’ll eat at all the best places.
Best…by my definition.
I’d heard of exactly…one…of the bands on the bill.
Out of four.
That’s pretty bad for a guy who’s spent as much time and money as I have going to concerts and discovering new bands.
A friend of mine who is absolutely not into metal or modern rock has a 14-year old daughter who is into metal and modern rock, and who absolutely adores Pierce the Veil.
PTV was on the bill that night.
Remember the Bob Geldof (of Boomtown Rats fame) story? About how all he remembers of his Beatles experience, when he saw them in the mid 1960’s, was the girls in the audience pissing themselves.
That night, with two 14-year old girls totally obsessed over PTV, wasn’t quite that bad but for a few minutes it was close.
My friend asked if I’d take her daughter and another girl to a concert in Bloomington. Her daughter’s very cool and it’d been a while since I’d been to a show and I digged the one bands I’d heard of so….
“Yeah, I’ll take ’em. It’ll be fun.”
And it was.
Dude, I’m getting old.
It wasn’t too loud; wasn’t Rush or U2 or Stones loud, but there were four damn bands. The shows started a bit after 6:30 Thursday and went on until…well, Saturday afternoon it felt like. So the cumulative loudness nearly broke me. I’ve been noise drunk before and will be again but holy balls, that night actually hurt a couple times.
That’s a first. Never, ever have my ears actually hurt at a show. Come on, I’m a drummer. I’ve been banging skins and going to shows for nearly thirty-five years. The only difference is…well, I’ve never been 46 going on 93 before.
But also, these was modern rock and these bands were way, heavily, massively into bass drums. Bono has a line about how U2 drummer Larry Mullen has tremendously heavy foot and singing in front of him and his bass drum night after night is like getting punched in the chest.
This show, with The Wonder Years, All Time Low, Pierce The Veil, and A Day To Remember, was like getting slugged in the chest.
And then, just for fun and variety, getting my ears boxed and occasionally having someone slam my teeth together.
So the volume let me know I was old, much as I hated to admit it. But there was something else.
Remember when you and I were hitting the shows? Remember when, during the power ballads and the epic stadium anthems, we’d yank out our lighters, flick them to life, and wave them back and forth? Sure, you remember…and you know if you’d had a chance to see the original Skynyrd, you’d have cranked that damned thing during ‘Freebird’ until your damn hand caught fire.
It ain’t lighters anymore, kids.
In the sea of maybe 5,000 people, I saw three lighters.
The geezers waved them.
I didn’t actually have a lighter, having not been a smoker since junior high school when I was trying desperately to unbutton a particular girl’s Levi 501s and she smoked. Ergo, if I smoked….
And if I’d had a lighter, I probably wouldn’t have cranked it up, but what struck me was that the entire arena lit up, just as if everyone had lighters.
Every bit of it. Well, except for the three geezers. It was exceedingly odd. Sure, I know phones are everywhere and in fact I teach my police recruits to remember that everyone now has a camera and videocamera with them at all times.
So it wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of cells, nor that they could be used as light. Hell, I’ve used mine as a flashlight in my own house before. But it was the application of something ubiquitous – the cell phone – to a ritual of nearly every concert I’d ever been to – lighting the place up for an emotional high.
Totally caught me by surprise. I leaned over to Makenna, my friend’s daughter, and said something about lighters versus cell phones and swear to all that’s sacred, she looked at me with a completely blank look on her face.
It was a look that said, “Holy balls, I didn’t realize you were that old.”
It was at almost that exact moment that my back started hurting, and my hearing started to go a little bit, and I wondered if maybe my pizza should be pureed so it’s easier to chew and if my next Social Security check would come in spite of the government shut down.
In other words, that’s when I felt old. Those damn kids with their pesky cell phones and their loud music. And look, just look, at those clothes!
Believe it or not, there was a plus side to all this. Makenna and her pal Amber had never been to an arena show before. They had no idea that the rain that soaked us to the bone while we waited for the doors to open was fun. They had no idea that knifing through the crowds standing at the merch tables, and yeah, having to elbow some of them out of the way, was fun. They had no idea that dodging and weaving through drunks to avoid their vomit was fun.
But the most fun for me was discovering that Makenna was just as big a music geek as I was, liked her music just as tough and hard as I did, and got just as excited when her band – Pierce The Veil – hit the stage as I still do when Rush or Buddy Guy or Dave Brubeck started playing (rock, blues, jazz…come on, expand your horizons).
She stood up when the second band came on and didn’t sit down until she got in the car to leave hours later. Her arms never came down. She never stopped screaming every word to every song for three entire bands. She never stopped cheering and clapping. And she never once, not once, looked like she wanted to be anywhere else.
And yeah, when PTV came out, that’s when I thought of the Geldof story. Thought I might have to strap her to the top of the truck coming home because I wasn’t going to sniff piss all the way home.
So some of the night I spent feeling old; out of the loop and two or three steps slow. But some of the night I spent feeling like a veteran; experienced and knowing and a jump or two ahead of my concert mates.
Two sides of the same record, I guess.
Hell, even writing that makes me feel old. No one does records anymore. It’s all downloads and this song or that song but definitely not that other song.
Though truth be told, Makenna did talk about PTV in terms of albums, and that’s what she called them…albums. So that made me feel slightly better.
As did the crowd surfing. There was a ton of it going on and as old as I am, more than once I thought about ditching the girls, hopping the railing, and doing me some surfing.
I could totally do it.
Well, I could if I’d taken my back pills. And gone to the bathroom first. And made sure someone knew where I was…just in case.
And for those interesting in such trivial matters, I never did get to touch those Levi 501 buttons. Damnit.