01 February 2022

X Minus 15

Working in the district attorney's offices for both Dallas and Tarrant Counties, a prosecutor always had the benefit of an investigator to help put our criminal cases together. The investigator, usually a retired cop, would serve subpoenas, help locate witnesses, accompany assistant district attorneys to witness meetings in sketchy parts of town, and generally do what was necessary to help make a case prosecutable. 

They also drank coffee, lots of it. 

In Dallas, a cluster of investigators would gather each morning in Big Steve's office. There, they'd tell their old cop stories. Most rarely washed their coffee cups. Instead, they'd shake the stray drops into the trash can and set the cups aside in preparation for the next morning's "intelligence briefing." 

A part of the conversation invariably involved making lunch plans. DA investigators tended to go to lunch early. Real early. 

It made sense when you view the typical business model of those offices. Courts usually had morning dockets. The prosecutors would arrive, gather up their files, and later their laptops, and then disappear to court to negotiate with the defense bar. During dockets, prosecutors placed few demands on the investigators. If they ate early, the investigators could be back in place when the assistant DAs returned from court, well-fed and poised to aid the prosecutors in case preparation. They went to lunch early as a favor to the prosecutors. 

At least that was the story. 

From listening to old cops and assistant district attorneys, the golden era of crime-fighting was always today's date minus 10-15 years. 

When I started, I "shoulda been here a decade ago." 

When I stopped, the new hires, "shoulda been here a decade ago." 

And so the cycle continued. 

Jim, the retired motorcycle cop, had a great story about using his bike's police radio as a polygraph when interviewing witnesses. They'd put their hands on the bike's Dallas Police Department emblem. The radio would squawk when the interviewee was prevaricating. 

Paul, a diminutive man with a slow drawl, had the reputation as a cop who could handle himself in a crisis. If Paul called for backup, officers raced to his location. If he needed help, things were serious. Paul had a bucketful of stories. 

Sometimes they told tales of old prosecutors. Frank had arthritic fingers and a drawl to match Paul's. They'd tell about him in court, standing before the jury and pointing his fishhook of an index finger toward the defendant. Over the top of his glasses, he'd stare down the accused and call him a "malefactor." Back in the day, the jurors might not know what "malefactor" meant. From Frank's poisonous tone, they knew they didn't want to be one. 

Paul, Steve, Vicki, Art, Jim, and many other old-timers enriched my life with stories about their golden eras. I'm grateful for the tales they told. I wished I'd listened more and better. 

My story, "The Family Cycle," in the SINC North Dallas anthology, Malice in Dallas, taps into some of those long-ago memories. The story isn't a retelling of any one person in particular but rather a mosaic pieced together from a number of the folks with whom I had the pleasure to work during my time at the Dallas County District Attorney's office. 

I'd be remiss at this point if I didn't thank Barb Goffman, the editor of the anthology, for helping to make my mishmash of memories and thoughts into a coherent and workable story. 

Turning a distant memory into a short story offers several distinct advantages. I had the seed of an idea. The process allowed me to step back into that golden era for a little while. The hazy nature of my recollections made them easier to combine and craft into a piece of fiction. I couldn't get too hung up on any of the details. The cumbersome bits have been lost to time. 

I imagine we all have a tale about an overheard conversation at a Starbucks, a snippet that turned around in our heads and re-emerged in a story we've written. Big Steve's, I recognized now, was my neighborhood coffee shop serving Folgers and memories. 

If I'd known then that I'd be spending my time these days trying to tell crime stories, I'd have spent more in Steve's office soaking up the tales. Some of them were probably even true. 

I'd also have bought the coffee. 

I'll be traveling on the day this posts. 

Until next time.


  1. Definitely entertaining, Mark. Congratulations to you and Barb.

  2. The old stories are the best. And "Malice in Dallas" is a great title, too.

  3. I laughed out loud as I read your story, Mark. Was delighted to work with you on it. And thanks, Leigh!


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