Our class was six miles into a Friday night “Fun Run” when the ratty limousine we used in dignitary protection training rolled up beside our formation in the shadow of a Georgia pine forest. Some numbskull had only moments before cracked a joke during the lead instructor’s favorite cadence. A hush fell over the column of forty-six sweating, bug-bitten, splint-shinned Basic Deputy U.S. Marshals. We’d just earned at least another three miles. The limo’s windows were armored and didn’t roll down so the driver opened his door a crack as he crunched alongside us on the gravel road. He barked my name, told me to fall out of formation.
“We’re having a baby,” he said. “Get in.”
It remains the only time I’ve ever ridden in the backseat of an armored limo.
He drove me to the U.S. Marshals Academy offices and let me return a call to my somewhat loopy bride. The instructors let us talk a few minutes then asked me if this was going to make me quit and “run for the next smokin’ jet home.” I said no, and they apparently believed me because they drove me back out to finish the run with my classmates. I didn’t care. The last few miles breezed by. I was a daddy again.
While I stayed at the Academy for the next three months running, shooting, fighting—and basically getting paid to play a giant, interactive game of Clue, my sweet wife brought our new baby boy home from the hospital and packed our household goods into a U-Haul. It was my first assignment so the government didn’t help with relocation. Still in training, I didn’t either. A few weeks before I returned home, she moved with our three kids—two in diapers—to our new duty station near the Texas/Oklahoma border.
Our eldest is pushing thirty and now carries a badge and gun for a living. Our youngest (the one born while I was at Marshals Basic) is in the application process. I’m at once proud and fretful, worried about the dangers that come with the job, both physical and emotional—to them and their families. I never served in the military but I’d imagine many of the issues are the same, if not greater. Especially the worry. Thankfully, they both married brave women.
|Fun with Vegas photoshop. It captures her|
personality though, and our partnership
Early in my career as a deputy marshal I was sent to Mississippi to help with a high-threat trial where a witness had been murdered. I was young and aggressive. To me this was a grand adventure. In nightly calls home, I regaled my wife with all the excitement of my day—prisoner movements in a helicopter, high speed motorcades, and the darkness in a couple of prisoner witnesses who had been on death row but were now commuted to lifer status. I took it for granted that she was sharing in my adventure. About two weeks into the assignment, my partner, John, who was still back in Texas, needed the caged G-ride (government car) that I’d left parked in front of our house. He had someone drop him off with the extra key and went to tell my bride what he was up to. A former Texas Highway Patrolman and gentleman cowboy through and through, John removed his hat and knocked on the door. When my wife saw him standing there in his suit, looking so official with a gray Stetson over his heart, she collapsed in the doorway, certain I'd been killed in some gun battle. We all laugh about it now, but I learned, at least in some small way, not to be so glib about my wife’s silent fears.
A law enforcement attitude can’t help but rub off on the entire family. Our kids learned the concepts of ‘stranger danger’ earlier than most of their playmates and memorized a ‘password’ that anyone picking them up had to give to prove we’d sent them. Depending on where we lived, sometimes they didn’t exactly advertise what Daddy did for a living. They grew up in a house full of guns surrounded by talk of violence, bad men and blood. I tried to spare them the worst of my war stories, but they are smart kids and when cop families get together they talk. I practiced hostage drills with my wife, so she would know to throw her feet out from under her when I said a certain code word because I was about the shoot the bad guy holding her in the head. You can’t live like that and not have it change you.
Early in our marriage, my wife would sometimes attack me out of nowhere for “training purposes”, like a brunette version of Inspector Clouseau’s Kato. When I learned a new arrest technique, she let me walk through it with her so I could get it cemented in my head. Usually we ended up in a good natured wrestling match. If she ever felt like I was about to pin her—or if I tried to say, tickle her after she was pinned, she’d cry out “Help me boys!” and our sons would rush to her rescue in a giant free for all. Sometimes our daughter would even join in. It was great fun but somewhat disconcerting to my mother in law.
|My fearless bride with our eldest, about|
the age when he came out to
"back me up" in the yard.
As the boys got older, I transferred my practice of technique to them. I didn’t know what an effect this was having until one evening years later when our eldest was around twenty and about to head back to school at the U.S. Air Force Academy. A proud father, I chatted happily as I sat on the carpet watching him pack his suitcase. In the blink of an eye, my firstborn, the fruit of my loins, pounced on me and shoved me to the floor, smacking me in the floating ribs and pinning me. Trying to draw a breath, I looked up—full of pride at my son’s incredible tactics and strength—but wondering what this was all about. He looked down with a smile and said, “Remember when I was ten and we were wrestling and you popped me in the ribs and I couldn’t breath?” I nodded, still croaking for air. “Well,” he said, “this was for that.” And then he went back to his packing.
Maybe he holds a grudge. Maybe I was a little rough in his training. In any case, my wife and kids know how to defend themselves.
One of the most frightening things I ever heard as a patrol officer was a radio call for a fight in progress at my home address. I was in the early stages of writing a speeding ticket when I heard the call come over my handheld radio. I wasn’t the officer dispatched, but that didn’t matter. It was a lucky day for the speeder. I threw him back his license and sped away running code (lights and siren), beating the responding units by half a minute.
There was an unconscious guy on our lawn when I rolled up—knocked out with a tire tool by our neighbor who happened to be his cousin. My wife stood in our living room at our large picture window, the leash of a snarling black German shepherd in one hand and a Mini 14 rifle in the other. Our little boy was next to her, holding her knee. It was a pretty cool sight to behold, and the other responding officers talked about it for some time in hushed and reverent tones.
Not long after that, relatives of those same neighbors were racing a beater car up and down the street in front of our house and nearly ran over their own child. I had arrested the driver a couple of times for DUI and drugs—and his brother was my neighbor—so I knew him pretty well. I yelled for them to slow down and, of course, they stopped to exchange a few words with me. Armed with only a garden rake, I walked to the car with a few words of my own. In the heat of it all, the driver suddenly started laughing and nodded toward my house. When I looked behind me, I found my son standing in our yard wearing his little double rig of Buscadero holsters above his diaper and holding a cap gun in each hand. Even at two, he’d come to back up his daddy. I was mortified at the time, but looking back, with the knowledge that nothing bad happened it’s a cute image—and a real peek into my son’s personality.
|at my last book signing|
Over the years my wife has spent many nights not knowing where I was, or when I was coming home. When I was with the police department I worked nearly every Christmas and Thanksgiving. For our fifth anniversary, she made a candlelight feast of Cornish game hens—at 2:00 AM, when I could get away from patrol for my meal break. She’s gotten more than a few calls from the hospital after I’d been injured in some fight, dragged beside a car or banged up in an accident with my mounted police horse. In the early years she stretched a policeman’s budget further than humanly possible and washed the smell of dead bodies out of more than one uniform. There was one set of uniform pants that got hit with a ball of maggots that went straight into the trash… No one signs up for that.
More important than anything, I think is that she listened to me when I droned on about the filth and crap in the world, and showed me that there was still something good in it.
In my next Jericho Quinn book, a young Eskimo woman quizzes Quinn about how difficult it must be to have family and people he cares about while in his line of work. Jericho points out that although loners might have less to worry about, they don’t have as much to fight for either.
It’s all too easy to paint (or write) law enforcement personnel as stereotypical—the donut eating beat patrolman, heavy-handed traffic cop or even the lone stranger with the Big Iron On His Hip. It’s rarely that way. Well-balanced people are usually a package deal, with people who depend on them—and on whom they depend. Lawmen in literature, more often than not, have no wife or family. I couldn’t have done it without mine.
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's published ten novels, six of them Westerns (several as a ghost writer and two under his pen name, Mark Henry).
TIME OF ATTACK fourth in his USA Today Bestselling Jericho Quinn Thriller series, is the newest release from Kensington February of 2014.
Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
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