Don’t Fear a Strong Woman. Embrace Her.
Some of my fellow lawmen fell into twitchy, apoplectic fits when the Texas Rangers appointed their first two females.
“I will turn in my badge,” one chuffed, “before I work with a Ranger who has to squat to pee.”
He retired that month.
Not right, but it shows the state of the world, even in 1993.
I like to write stories with tough females—characters who, as we used to say in Texas, stomp their own snakes. Thankfully, over twenty-nine years in law enforcement, I’ve met plenty of women who have provided endless inspiration for characters. Some were heroic, some sad sacks, and some, pure meanness in a bag of pretty skin—but nearly all of them had a compelling story. Some of the most interesting lived their lives on the other side of the law.
As a baby-faced rookie who could barely sprout the obligatory cop mustache, I was assigned to shadow the staff at the county jail in order to learn how the correctional part of the system operated.
It was 1984 and prisoners were still allowed to smoke. A dank haze clouded the cellblock, mingling with the odor of urine, sweat and quiet desperation. There was only one female prisoner that day, stashed back in a single cell in the far corner of the block. Thick-hipped and narrow-shouldered, she sat on the edge of her metal bunk, dressed only in a bra and panties, working on some kind of embroidery or needlepoint.
She had, I was told, tried to kill her boyfriend with a piece of piano wire. At the time of her arrest, she’d secreted away a small derringer in a place I never would have thought a woman might hide something as prone to accidental discharge as a derringer.
“He bring me a smoke?” The prisoner asked, staring past me at the jailer. Her voice was whiskey’ed, like she’d screamed it away at a rock concert.
The jailer explained all the things this one could accomplish for a single cigarette. There were no cameras back there, he assured me, and the bars would hardly get in the way at all.
I stammered something about not being a smoker, which prompted the prisoner to curse me in disgust.
It was a surreal moment, watching this woman flash from being willing to trade her body for a cigarette, to wanting to murder me with a piece of piano wire, and then settling back to working on her needlepoint—all in a matter of seconds. I can’t remember her name, but when I write, “She eyed him like a piece of meat,” I have the vision of her to draw from. She became part of the inspiration for the wicked Lourdes, in a later Jericho Quinn book, nearly thirty years after she cursed me for not paying her to sidle up to the bars.
I introduced Veronica “Ronnie” Garcia in the second Jericho Quinn book. On the fit side of zaftig, she speaks three languages and is at once tough and vulnerable. I’d originally written the beginning of the story so she’d stop some terrorists during a gun battle at Langley, and then die as a sort of sacrificial lamb—but she was just too good to kill off. She went on to become a love interest for Jericho, further complicating his life for the next three and soon to be four books. Ronnie, like all the women I write, are a blend of people I’ve worked with, arrested and otherwise known on the job over the last three decades.
When I started at the PD, we called the mid-shift sergeant Ma. Her patrol car always smelled so much better than any of the others. She was in her early forties, had been to modeling school and was as fit as she was poised. Ma was my supervisor for several years, first on patrol and later when she was promoted to captain over the detective unit. We fought crazy drunks, worked horrific injury accidents, faced armed outlaws, settled domestic disputes and wrestled at least three naked women—one where she broke her wrist trying to hold the nudie’s legs together so I’d be spared from glimpsing any naughty bits. Ma was protective that way.
I was barely twenty-two when I pinned on the badge. Many of the officers in our department were not yet thirty. Her real name is Gladys, but it’s no wonder we called her Ma. She raised us all from little law-dog puppies.
Jill, one of my firearms instructors at the US Marshals Academy became a dear friend over the course of our respective careers. Not only can she shoot the cojones off a tsetse fly at twenty paces, she is also possessed of an iron will that is a sight to see in action. Wisely, the Marshals Service promoted her to Senior Inspector where she was charged with protecting Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges when their lives are threatened. It takes extreme talent to do such a job well, because, as the saying goes, the difference between God and a federal judge—is that God doesn’t think he’s a federal judge.
One of the things we do in Marshals Service Basic is fight—a lot. For the last ten of the sixteen-week academy, students spend an average of two hours a day punching, kicking or otherwise torqueing each other into various unnatural positions. Girls fight guys—to make it real. Toward the end of training, I watched my good friend, Shirley take a punch directly to the face during a full-contact match. It hurt my heart to hear the thump when the blow struck home and then a moment later when her butt slammed into the matt. Dazed and nearly blinded, she shook it off and scrambled to her feet, advancing on her opponent. Here, I thought, is a deputy who would run toward the sound of gunfire.
I first met Wanda, my chief deputy in Alaska, on the firing range where she shot a perfect 300 score with both her duty pistol and a .44 Magnum revolver. One of the first female Border Patrol agents, she eventually transferred to the US Marshals and remains one of the most respected women in the Service—for her abilities—and because of the dedication she showed to her subordinates. Possessed of a dry sense of humor and razor wit, I took to writing down the little nuggets she said shortly after I started working for her. I once heard her giving advice to a mutual acquaintance just moments after he’d sprung the startling revelation that he was getting a sex change operation. “I don’t know,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “That might sound like a good idea now, but wait until you get your first yeast infection…” A fount of wisdom she was and is.
I could write more but, as I mentioned, Wanda is an excellent shot, so I’d best not upset her by telling too many tales. Like I’ve said before, look me up next year at Thriller Fest. I’ve got stories I could never commit to the inter-web.
So many of the men and women I’ve worked with over the last three decades are larger than life. Most deserve to have books written about them in their own right. In some small way, through putting bits and pieces of them into my characters, that’s what I try to do—even if they squat to pee.
Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He has published ten novels, six of them Westerns (several as a ghost writer and two under his pen name, Mark Henry). His present Jericho Quinn series—NATIONAL SECURITY, ACT OF TERROR, STATE OF EMERGENCY and TIME OF ATTACK (February 2014, Kensington) features an adventure motorcyclist, Air Force OSI agent and renaissance man who spends his days sorting out his life and kicking terrorist butt.
Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
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