Friday, December 20, 2013

CUT TO THE CHASE: The Art of Pursuit--by Marc Cameron

When my eldest son was young I used to terrorize him by calling myself Hairy Man Wallace (not sure why I picked Wallace) and chasing him screaming through the woods. He credits his stellar high school track abilities in 800 and 3200-meter races—along with a few incidental nightmares—to these frenzied pursuits in the dark forests of northern Idaho when he was a small boy.
He too chose a career in law enforcement and now has sons of his own. I’m not sure if I worry more about how he’ll terrorize my grandsons or the stories he’ll pass on about how mean I used to be.
I’m not a particularly competitive person when it comes to games—unless there’s a chase involved. Cars, motorcycles, horseback, or on foot—in books, movies and in life, a good pursuit ignites my predatory instincts. And I don’t think I’m unique. Evidence suggests that in major battles throughout history, soldiers rarely used their bayonets in face-to-face battle. But, when an opponent turned to flee, it was a different story altogether. Some sort of chase drive kicked in and…well, it wasn’t pretty.   
In literature, the chase pulls or pushes us along in the story. We run after the same goal as our protagonist or from whatever it is that happens to be chasing him—or both. 
The title characters in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, pursued by E.H. Harriman’s posse, turn to look over their shoulders time and again to say, “Who are those guys?” I have to admit that though I loved Butch and Sundance, when it came to my job, I wanted the guys I chased to be thinking the same thing.  Hunting men requires dogged determination, sometimes to the detriment of much else in life. Birthdays, anniversaries, ballgames and track meets slip by, noticed, but unattended. Even opportunities to be Harry Man Wallace become fewer and farther between.
Every deputy marshal I know has a deep understanding of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in The Fugitive when Harrison Ford turns at gunpoint and says, “I didn’t kill my wife.” Jones, as Deputy Sam Gerard says, “I don’t care.”
Basically, if you want me to stop chasing you, quit running.  
No one I ever worked with got into law enforcement for the paperwork. We were in it, in part at least, for the quest. There are few more despondent looks than that of a young patrol officer called off by a supervisor in the middle of a vehicle pursuit. I’m not saying standing down isn’t sometimes the right thing to do. I’m just saying it sucks. It’s like putting a shock collar on a sheepdog, then jolting him while he’s chasing off a wolf.
Many of the surveillances, fights and pursuits into which I drop Jericho Quinn are stolen from my experience and the experiences of my cohorts. Even now, nearly thirty years from the day I first started police work, I feel a particular tightness in my chest when I write a scene where a pursuit is involved. Quinn chases bad guys on foot and on all manner of motorcycle.  Though I’ve never actually been in a motorcycle chase, every ride has that feel to it. Foot pursuits and car chases though, I have plenty of experience with those.
For sheer comfort, nothing compares to a foot pursuit from the back of a horse. Prior to my time with the U.S. Marshals, I worked mounted patrol with a police department in Texas. My horse, Max, and I once chased a lady who’d stolen some clothes from a local department store. Head down, arms pumping, she ran as fast her legs could carry her across the parking lot. Max fell into an easy trot.
            “Ma’am,” I chuckled. “You cant’ get away.”
She redoubled her efforts, digging in with all she had.
Ears pinned, Max seemed to be enjoying the game.
Had the shoplifter been a man and been wanted for more serious crime, I might have spilled him with a little shove from the toe of my boot.  As it was, this lady made it about twenty more yards before collapsing into a heaving pile of sobs and stolen merchandise.
            Most pursuits aren’t that easy.
            Early one Sunday morning, I ended up behind two outlaws who’d just shot it out with a Texas Highway Patrolman and were making a break down the interstate. One of the most frightening yet exhilarating moments of my career was trying to keep up with them in my Plymouth Grand Fury patrol car. The pegged out speedometer was one thing, but my light sedan drifted back and forth over every lane on the interstate like an air hockey puck.  Thankfully, the bad guys bailed into the woods before I turned into a fireball. One was caught quickly but we looked for the other one all day with helicopters, horses, house-to-house searches and roadblocks.  Later that evening, while we were still searching the woods, the Texas Rangers announced they’d found the guy in Fort Worth, dead. I often wonder if they found him dead or if they found him and he died. Back then, one just did not shoot at a Texas lawman and get away with it.
Seems like my foot chases always happened after a buffet day at the pizza joint. There’s a certain rhythm to running with a gun, extra magazines, handcuffs, radio, stick, ballistic vest and wad of keys. Thankfully, a great many bad guys are out of shape. I won’t address the image of the donut eating copper here, except to say that, though there are plenty of plus-size officers out there, most of the men and women I was fortunate enough to work with are on the fit side of the norm—some, extremely so.
In TIME OF ATTACK, Jericho chases an assassin down the Las Vegas Strip and through several casinos. Quinn of course, is uber-fit, but he’s also smart—and in the pursuit of outlaws, that’s every bit as important.
In real life, I rarely ran into a master villain. In fact, the guys I chased were far from the brightest lights on the Christmas tree.
            When I was on patrol, a guy I pulled over sped away from me because he had a gallon baggie full of weed. His plan was to get just far enough ahead that he’d be able to hold the bag out the window and get rid of the evidence. Aerodynamics worked against him at that high speed, blowing the entire contents of the bag back into his face and lap.  I got the chance to drive fast and he went to jail.
            A Trooper friend of mine in Alaska had a couple of fugitives flee out of their house and into the nearby wood line. My friend knew that there was nothing but miles of tundra on the other side of the trees, filled with mosquitos and tiny biting no-see-ums. Instead of running after the fugitives, he simply slathered himself with bug dope and waited for them to run back to him. If you’ve ever spent much time in the Alaska Bush, you know that it didn’t take them long.
            I once chased a hooker, wanted on drug charges, who climbed out the back window of a duplex then ran along the rooftop. We’d interrupted a…business deal, so she was barefoot and wore nothing but panties and a light tank top. She was tough as a boot, and even half naked went over several privacy fences that slowed me down and nearly gutted my partner on an exposed nail. In the end, it was Alaska’s below-zero winter that stopped her. She gave up before she froze her assets off.
            Not all chases are after bad guys.
A couple of weeks before I left for the Marshals job, my partner, Horace and I were sitting on our horses on a little knob hill that overlooked the county golf course. The saddle lends itself to waxing philosophical so we talked about our futures, the life of a lawman, working for the feds, etc.  It was a brisk evening, cold enough you could see your breath. A big winter sun squatted just off the end of the fairway. Horace, ten times the horseman I will ever be, snugged down his black Resistol then turned to me and said, “Marcus, you don’t have a hair on your butt if you don’t race me right damn now” before galloping off toward the eighth hole in a blur of palomino and black and gray.
            Well, hairy behind or not, I could not let such a challenge go unanswered.
The next morning, I found myself standing tall in front of the chief’s desk. Hard to hide a bunch of size #2 horseshoe divots on a golf course. Our only defense was that we stayed off the greens.     
             Though I write people killin’ Adventure Thrillers, I still work at putting in a few pursuits of the heart. Gunny Jacques Thibodaux still chases his wife around the house—and has seven sons to prove it.  Veronica Garcia pursues Jericho Quinn— and Quinn still hasn’t figured out if he should chase Ronnie or his ex wife.
            Me, I know exactly what I’m chasing. I’ve been married to her thirty years today.
            She made me chase her over two years before she asked me to marry her.  We were on the hood of my rusty old Dodge Dart, looking up at the Texas night sky and the conversation went something like this:  
Bride to be: “So, are you going to ask me to marry you?”
Me (slow as ever): “I was planning to.”
Bride to be (chewing on this as if it was news): “Well, don’t ask me yet.”
Nothing but crickets…for a long time…
Me, finally: “Well, er…when I do ask, are you going to say yes?”
Bride to be: “Of course.”
We went another couple of weeks, her back in college 1200 miles away, me working and wondering if I was engaged or not.

I guess I was a little slow on the uptake. She told me later how important it was to her to be pursued.  Maybe I should have tried out the Harry Man Wallace thing a little earlier. Maybe, just maybe, if she’d enjoyed being chased through the woods by a crazy man, we would be celebrating our thirty-second anniversary right now—or maybe I’d just be coming up for parole.

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 Jericho Quinn Thriller series, will be released from Kensington February of 2014. 
Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.

Visit him at:


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  2. Excellent, that too was my favorite line from The Fugitive; used it a few times when 'protests of innonence' came up.

    The pursuit of men, or 'a' woman can be very exciting.

    Thank you for the recall of pleasant, and some not so pleasant, memories.

  3. Good stuff, Marc. Sure looking forward to getting some face-to-face time with you. Done a bit of sailing and bike riding, but never after anyone. The chases that are the main plot points of Pitchfork Justice and A Man Called Breed go from Moab, Utah to St. Johns, Arizona in one and from Ehrenburg, AZ across the Mojave desert and into the Tonto Basin in the other. Nothing high speed, but lots of risky stuff. I'd like to be able to knock off a piece of Jericho Quinn, but my gumshoe hero is just a reporter. Shucks. Keep 'em coming. Looking forward to February.

  4. Happy Anniversary, Marc & bride.

  5. A fun post to read, Marc. Thanks--and Happy Anniversary to you both.

  6. Happy Anniversary, Marc! Oh, I love these posts of yours! You always put such a personal slant on things that so many of us only are able to watch on tv or read about in the newspaper. I'm sure your experience feeds the writing fire inside. My husband has read all of your JQ series and loves them. Realism is the key. Great post, as always.

  7. Marc, reading your posts are such a treat. Although I wasn't an officer, I did work corrections and what memories your stories bring back. I haven't yet been able to translate my experiences into my writing, but there is hope. Thank you. Doris