I was thumbing through a stack of offense reports, the crimes that had occurred during the previous overnight hours, when the owner of a nightclub showed up at my office door. His business had a widely-known reputation for rowdy bar fights, stabbings, drug dealings, and shootings. He was a loud-talking man with a coarse voice that sounded as if he’d swallowed a couple of sheets of 80 grit sandpaper. He was rude, crude, and irritatingly boisterous. However, the day he sat in the chair next to my desk with his hat in hand, however, he was as meek and mild as a newborn kitten. He had troubles and he wore them on his sleeve for the world to see.
He explained to me that the local police (his club was located in a nearby city outside of my jurisdiction) had threatened to begin proceedings to classify his business as a public nuisance. Their goal, they’d told him, was to then shut down the bar and padlock the doors for good. He went on to tell me that he’d invested his entire life savings into the nightclub as well as the cash he’d set aside for his daughters’ college years, days that were rapidly approaching. Things had simply gotten out of hand and he didn’t know how to turn them around.
I asked Mr. Jones (not his real name) why he’d come to see me and not an officer in the city where his business was located. After all, I told him, I didn’t have arrest powers in the city where his club was located. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I understand you know how to clean up problems like mine. You can, right?”
At the time, I must admit, I had a bit of a reputation for taking on some of the biggest and baddest thugs on the street, and winning. Of course, I didn’t do it alone. I had the backing of a group of officers I’d assembled specifically to tackle gangs and street violence. The collection of officers was appropriately named “Street Crimes Unit (SCU).”
The word on the street was that when I was recruited by a certain (unnamed) city police department, part of the reason was to clean up an area called “The Bottom” (not the real name) where honest, law-abiding folks absolutely did not dare venture outside at night. Instead, each evening, when the sun dipped below the horizon, residents double-locked their doors and windows and then hunkered down to wait for gunfire, home invasions, and drug dealers and prostitutes who shamelessly operated their businesses from the locals’ front yards and porches.
Dialing 911 was basically a hobby for the residents of The Bottom, and, when patrol officers responded they were often on the receiving end of anonymous gunfire, rocks, bricks, and more. They were outnumbered—15 or 20 to 1.
So, in order to accomplish the task I was hired to do, I assembled the SCU, a highly skilled and fearless team of officers, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, federal agents, friends of mine from the state police and other state agencies, reserve officers, and a herd of canines and their handlers—both narcotics dogs and those who love to bite. We dressed in black BDUs for uniformity and for a bit of intimidation factor, and we were heavily armed.
Each night I called a briefing where I instructed everyone to be safe but to arrest as many law breakers as they could possibly nab—I wanted the bad guys to know we meant business—we headed out on a mission we hoped would produce positive results, without violating anyone’s rights. Everything had to be by the book, no exceptions. But the goal was clear. Clean up the streets. Rid the neighborhoods of violent criminals.
After the briefing regarding the operation in The Bottom, I led the long parade of police vehicles to the edge of neighborhood, an area comprised of several square blocks. We parked out of sight and earshot where the K-9 handlers gave their dogs a quick potty break. When the dogs were properly relieved we “moved in” on foot, walking as a large unit down the middle of the main street where activity was most prevalent. I’d also assigned two officers to stay behind, standing guard over our vehicles.
We were about 30 deep and 2 wide, and I guarantee you that 60 officers suited in all black with some carrying rifles and shotguns, while a pack of barking and snarling Rottweilers and German Shepherds, well, I’ll put it this way … the streets were fairly clear within a matter of minutes. We took a few prisoners—those who thought they could take on the police by firing a couple of Saturday night specials into the air, hoping to scare us away. And there were those who enjoyed a good fist fight no matter the odds.
Sure, I got my clothes dirty, and I came away with a few bruises and scrapes, but we won the battle. And we did it again and again until the elderly residents were once again able to enjoy their front porch swings while drinking glasses of iced tea and chatting with their neighbors.
Anyway, back to Mr. Jones. Those “street sweeps” earned me a reputation of taking on the biggest of the biggest and the baddest of the baddest. It wasn’t a totally earned reputation since it was an effort by an entire team, but I led the way so it was my face that was associated with kicking butt and taking names.
Mr. Jones asked me to come to work for him as the head of his team of security officers. He wanted me to be a bouncer. A cooler. And in the worst joint within five counties. I immediately said thanks but no thanks. Then, and it was odd to hear from this guy, he said, “Please.” And there were tears in his eyes.
Well, Friday night rolled around—yes, I’m a sucker for tears—and I stood just inside the front door of the nightclub, wearing a black t-shirt with SECURITY stamped in bold white letters across the back.
I was Patrick Swayze from the film Roadhouse. Well, sort of …
I also wore BDU’s with the pockets packed with pepperspray, a kubaton, an ASP, and handcuffs.
I showed the other bouncers how to operate a hand-held metal detector—everyone was to be scanned…no exceptions, I told them. No purses, pocketbooks, or bags of any kind. No pepperspray and no knives … of any kind. If the detector sounded off, a security team member patted them down. If they refused the pat-down, they didn’t come inside. Simple as that. I did not want to go home that night with any extra perforations in my body.
Ten minutes into this dumb move (accepting the job), I was already wondering just how dumb I was for considering this dumb assignment.
Finally, at 10:00 p.m. (my usual bedtime), it was time to open the doors. The DJ was pumping out Hip-Hop and rap tunes that pounded inside my skull and rattled my bones until I thought my skeleton might make a break for it and dash for the exit. I’m a Led Zepplin/Pink Floyd kind of guy, so the music spewing from the club’s Volkswagen-size speakers definitely wasn’t doing anything to make me feel welcome.
I peeked outside and saw a line of people snaking down the front steps, out into the gravel parking lot (I’d already made a mental note to avoid any scuffles out there, because rolling around on jagged stones can be painful), and down the sidewalk at the street. Building capacity was 800 and there were at least 1,000 people waiting to get inside to hear “DJ Jamba-Juice” or whatever the hell his stage name was. I think his real name was Terrence Smith, though.
The crowd poured through the double front doors like water going down a drain. At twenty bucks each, Mr. Jones was making a killing, and that wasn’t counting the watered down scotch and bourbons the patrons would soon be gulping, at 10- to 12-bucks a pop.
The guys at the doors used those counter-clicker-things, trying to keep track of how many people had packed inside. But doing that, scanning for metal objects, searching pockets, arguing about the pocketbook rule, and dealing with those who were already intoxicated when they arrived, well, let’s just say they lost count and the building was bursting at the seams. I swear, each time the crowd exhaled I thought I could see moonlight coming in through the spaces where the rafters “used to” meet the walls.
And, lo and behold, it happened. Somebody looked at somebody’s girlfriend and the donkey dung hit the fan. It was on and out came the knives and broken beer bottles.
I waded through the crowd of looky-loos, pushing and pulling people out of my way until I found the fight. Four men going at each other like a pack of hyenas going after a zebra carcass. Two women were scratching and clawing and hair-pulling, and this was the snatching of real hair. Their wigs were on the floor, looking like two squashed and very dead muskrats.
I started worming my way into the fight, stopping the slugging, stabbing, and cutting. Then a shot rang out. And then another, and another.
People scrambled toward the exits, knocking down the weak and the meek. The fight, though, continued with more men joining in to take cheap shots at me. So I decided to even the odds and pulled out my pepper spray and began squirting the attackers like I was spraying a bad roach infestation. I held the ASP in my other hand, ready to take out the kneecaps, elbows, and collarbones of anyone not affected by the spray. Luckily, they abandoned their intentions and headed for the door, rubbing their burning eyes and skin.
My brand new SECURITY shirt was torn at the collar and my freshly laundered pants were filthy, with several drops and smears of blood on the legs and near the waistband. I looked around to see why the other bouncers hadn’t come to my aid and saw that they, too, had been involved in battles of their own. We looked a mess, like warriors who’d been away battling dragons and trolls and other evil creatures.
A few minutes later the local police arrived and they came inside ten deep, ready to clear the joint. The sergeant recognized me and immediately asked, “What the hell are you doing here?” But his question came a bit too late … I’d already asked myself that very question at least a dozen times. And to this day I still don’t know why I agreed to serve as a real-life Patrick Swayze for a night.
I did learn a valuable lesson, though, that it’s a lot safer to approach a situation such as the one at Mr. Jones’ bar, if you go in carrying machine guns while following a handful of well-trained dogs. A stick and a can of pepper juice just doesn’t cut it when the odds are a thousand to six, in the favor of the other team.
By the way, that was the last night Mr. Jones’ bar was open for business. Someone eventually bought it and turned the place into a family restaurant, specializing in Mexican food … where hot peppers are used as they should be … as part of the cuisine.