Matthew Levine and
Robert Haydon Jones

Matthew Levine

Hotline Action
By Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration piece

Chris was off that Saturday afternoon just back from a long, dangerous,
ultimately successful op in Arizona. He had slept late and had coffee on the deck. The dogwoods were in full bloom and they touched him. Spring had ended months ago in the high desert.

He was driving on Metro Avenue to the ballgame at the stadium when a call came in over his scanner about a robbery and shots fired at a liquor store literally a block away from him off Metro and when Chris rolled up there was a fat, young, black, female cop down on her knees on the sidewalk in front of the store with her hands against her sternum right above her badge and blood was spurting from between her fingers. Her mouth was working like she was screaming, but Chris couldn’t hear anything. Her Glock was lying there in the street close behind her.

There was a young teenage Latino kid lying there about twenty feet away flat on his back, eyes fixed up at the sky with a perfectly round bullet hole in his face just to the right of his nose — a squat, snub 38 still hanging on his index finger — and 30 feet further down, near the entrance to an alley lined with dumpsters, a bright blue gym bag lay upside down with a big pile of cash spilled out of it — some of the bills were fluttering away in the breeze.

Chris called in for back up and EMT’s and went to open his door. As he pulled the handle, the cop went over backwards and lay there contorted with her shins under her. She wasn’t even twitching.

Chris resisted his impulse to rush to help her. Something was hinky. The alley. It looked like the dead kid had been headed toward the alley. So, Chris eased out of his car on the passenger side, which was out of direct view from the alley. Then he worked his way around toward the alley entrance.

He shouted, “Police! We know you’re there. Throw out your weapon and come out or we’ll open fire.”

Right away, a sawed-off pump Remington shotgun clattered out.

Chris shouted, “I said throw out all your weapons!”

Amazingly, another sawed-off pump Remington came tumbling out.

“Now you. Mesh your fingers on your head and walk straight out here very slowly. Do it now!”

Two pretty, slender, light-skinned, Latina, high-school-age girls walked out side-by-side. They were chewing gum and giggling nervously.

Chris kept his Glock right on them so they could see it and then he turned them around against a wall, cuffed them together and patted them down. Then he walked them back to his car, got out his spare handcuffs, turned them again, cuffed each of them and stowed them in the back seat.

He had just holstered his weapon when three black and whites, an ambulance and two unmarked cars rolled in and a bunch of cops and EMT’s jumped out. Chris badged them and said, “Federal Agent.”

They clustered around the downed, bent backwards cop – but it was clear she was gone. “She’s expired,” said one of the EMT’s, a gangly red headed man in his middle forties with horn-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a stethoscope.

They went into the liquor store and it was like a slaughterhouse. The girls had opened up with their shotguns on the middle-aged Mom & Pop owners and the other perpetrator had killed the only customers, an elderly couple. He had shot each of them in the middle of the forehead.

There were gouts of blood on the walls, and the ceiling, even on the fluorescent lights. The dead old folks were sprawled in vast connecting pools of blood. Two cops suddenly bent over and vomited. Some of the vomit splattered into a blood puddle and another cop, bent, turned around and vomited – scattering the others.

Chris went out and stood by while the cops transferred the two girls from his car to a patrol car. A patrolman returned Chris’s handcuffs and a lieutenant took a statement from him.

The dead cop was Melody Barnes. She’d been on the force six years. The dead kid and the two girls were dropouts from the high school down the street. One of the patrolmen thought they were from the same family – or at least lived at the same house a few blocks down. He said the word was they ran with a crew that was a branch of the Latin Kings.

The crime-scene truck rolled up and then the Coroner’s van. The lieutenant had Chris sketch in the scene on a pre-printed form. Chris mentioned that everything was just as they were seeing it now – except the girls were out of his sight in the alley. The lieutenant said he knew – but that Chris should know there was no getting around paperwork.

Chris said he did know. The lieutenant said he was impressed Chris had sensed that the alley could be hiding a potential threat.

“I gotta say 99 out of 100 cops would have run right over to help the injured officer. And those girls would have blown your ass away.”

Chris didn’t say anything.

“What was it? Did you have some sort of sixth sense?”

Chris told him he wouldn’t say it was a sixth sense. He had a lot of experience. In the Marines and in the street as a DEA Agent. Your chances were better if you did your fighting by the book.

“It was more or less routine for me to look past the spilled money bag and figure I had to clear that alley. It was experience and training. But I was real surprised when those two pump guns came sailing out and then the two Latinas.”

“Little frigging monsters. They claim they’re 15 and 16. They say they want their Mommas.”

Chris signed his statement and promised he’d come into the station whenever needed. He said he was going to go on to the ball game.

The lieutenant asked him if he was all right. Chris told him he was doing just fine. And he was.


Billy Tanner, his new AA Sponsee, was waiting for him at the ball game. Tanner, a bond sales whiz kid in his early forties, had nearly perished after twenty years of binge drinking. An amiable, big-shouldered man with black curly hair and a disarming dimple that enchanted even ladies who knew better, Billy had fancied himself a bourbon connoisseur – but he had ended up chugging vodka from pint bottles and snorting cocaine straight from the baggie.

Billy’s wife, Maxine, had been his drinking and drug buddy until the kids arrived. By the time the two boys were 9 and 7, Maxine had fallen in love with Frank Emerson, a third grade teacher, she met at a back-to-school night Billy missed. Maxine was really happy with Frank. It was an amazing rescue from the misery of being a lonely mother, the forlorn wife of an active alcoholic.

They were blissful. They planned a divorce but it would be hard. Frank lived with his widowed mother, who had Parkinson’s. It was a small retirement cottage – not nearly big enough. They planned. They saved. They enjoyed the bliss. Then one evening, while Billy was out of town at a convention, they experimented with a little bit of heroin that Lucy Jorgenson, a Special Ed, teacher, had given to Frank. It was the first time for both of them. They snorted up a little and within an hour both of them were dead of an overdose.

The little bit of heroin that Lucy Jorgenson had given Frank had come from a much larger amount that Lucy had been given by the grateful father of one of her Special Ed students. The father was a drug dealer, pretty high up on the chain. He had told Lucy to go easy. But she hadn’t realized this heroin was so pure it was lethally potent.

So, Maxine and Frank died naked in Frank’s bed. Frank’s mother found their blue bodies entwined there in the bed the next day.

Billy flew home and did what he had to do. He hadn’t known about Maxine and Frank. But he knew right away why Maxine was with Frank. Billy controlled his drinking during the week of the funeral and burial. Then he asked his mother to take charge of his boys and checked himself into a famous rehab in California.

Six weeks later, Billy emerged from the rehab determined to do whatever it took to stay clean and sober. Ten months back, Chris had met him at a meeting and agreed to be his sponsor. Ever since, Billy had diligently worked the Steps with Chris guiding him through. He was changing. Chris was thinking he had a chance.

It was the fifth inning by the time Chris got to the game but he hadn’t missed much. It was a pitcher’s duel. It stayed scoreless until the bottom of the ninth when the Pilgrims won the game on a double and a single. The winning run slid in on a close play at the plate.

They ambled on out with the happy crowd. Chris’s cell buzzed. It was the AA Hotline. Chris took the call. The Operator told Chris she hadn’t been able to reach the normal duty volunteers and that she had called him because he was listed as the emergency backup.

She said a man had called the hotline and said he was desperate to speak to someone from AA. Chris called the number and a voice pleaded with him for help. The man said he was afraid he was dying. Could Chris please come now? The drunk lived with his elderly mother in a nearby condo complex. Chris took the address and said he would come right away.

Chris told Billy that it was a 12th Step call. A drunk was asking for help. The AA tradition was when anyone reached out to AA – you came.

The condo complex was about a mile from Billy’s house, so Chris suggested that Billy drop his car off at home and then they would go on the call together. Long ago, AA experience had determined that you don’t want to make 12th Step calls on your own. It was too stressful. Often, it could be very dangerous.

Billy was plainly pleased he had been asked to help. Billy dropped off his car and Chris drove them on to the condo. The unit was on the second floor. The door opened up right away. A white haired, white bearded man in his early fifties stood there. He was bare-chested. He had a huge potbelly that spilled out over his dungaree shorts. He was shaking and trembling all over as if he had the chills.

Chris knew what it was. It wasn’t the chills.

“Are you Chris, from AA? I’m John Murphy. Thank God you’ve come.
I think I’m dying.”

Chris introduced Billy and asked if they could come in. They stood just inside the door. Further in, a frail, deeply wizened old woman in her 80’s or 90’s sat in a rocking chair.

“Hello”, said Chris to her. “We’re from AA. We’ve come to help.”

John Murphy said that yesterday he had consumed more than a half-gallon of vodka. He lived with his mother here in the loft of her one-bedroom condo. He had passed out last night. He had just awoken in big distress. He couldn’t stop shaking all over.

He had a regular job as a landscaper and business had just started to pick up with it being spring. He had a girl friend but they were having a hard time on some issues – so he had been drinking more than usual. His mother was struggling with dementia.

“Well, Chris said, “It is good you got through to us. We need to get you
to the hospital right away. Will your mother be all right here without you?

“Oh, yeah,” John replied. “She’s here by herself all the time when I’m at work or out with my girl, Trudy. Am I going to be okay? I feel like I’m dying.”

“Well, you’re bad sick – we need to get you to the hospital – but you should be okay once you get treatment. Get your wallet and ID and let’s get going. Make sure you have your insurance card.”

Chris walked up to the old lady. She was shriveled. Flesh drooped off the bones on her arms.

“Hello,” she said. “My big brother’s name was Chris but he was killed
on Guadalcanal. You look like a really nice man. Can you help my boy?
He’s so sick. He’s so sad.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Murphy”, Chris said. “Your son will be okay once we get him to the hospital. They know what to do. I’m going to take him in right away. I’ll let you know how he’s doing.”

They had only traveled a few miles, when Murphy screamed, “Stop the car – I’m going to puke!” Chris pulled right over. Billy opened the back door and Murphy flopped into the gutter and retched. He had the dry heaves. “I’m dying”, he screamed. “Please save me, please, please, save me!”

Chris pulled out a silver half pint flask from the glove compartment and handed it out to Billy, who was trying to prop up Murphy. “Here,” Chris said. “This will set him straight.”

Billy gave Chris a double take and then handed Murphy the flask.
Murphy’s hands were shaking so bad, there was no way he was going to get the cap off. “Open it up and help him,” Chris barked.

“What is it?” Croaked Murphy.

“It’s what you need,” Chris said, curtly.

“Down the hatch.”

Billy twisted the cap off and Murphy took the flask and chugged it down.

Towards the end, he coughed and some of the amber brown liquid sprayed out of his nose on to Billy’s arm.

“Oh, God,” Murphy groaned. That’s good. Am I going to die? Please don’t let me die.”

“Get back in the car so we can get you to the hospital — we’re only ten minutes out.”

“Am I going to die?”

“No. I absolutely guarantee you are not going to die if we get you to the hospital. I have a lot of experience at this. They will keep you safe. I promise.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you”, Murphy said as Billy helped him back into the car.

“God bless you both. I have so much to live for. Trudy and I are going to get married soon. My poor demented mother needs me. Please don’t let me die.”

Once they got to the ER the rest was easy. Murphy’s DT’s worked like an EZ-pass. The triage nurse took his driver’s license and insurance card and moments later a nurse was wheeling him into the treatment area.

“See you in a few days,“ Chris called after him.

“You’re in good hands.”

“God, that was scary”, Billy said as they drove back.

“I was bad but I was never that bad.”

“You were all the bad you had to be,” Chris said.

“Our man had end stage DT’s. That will get you through triage
real quick.”

“What was in that flask? It sure did the trick. But it didn’t smell like booze.”

“That’s because it was Dr. Brown’s Diet Cream Soda. It never fails.
Don’t ask me why because I don’t know why.”

When Chris dropped him off Billy said, “Thanks for being my Sponsor.
I learned a lot today.”

Chris said, “The arrows go both ways. I learned a lot too. Thanks for coming with me. You were a big help. I’ll see you tomorrow at the 5:30 meeting at St. Paul’s.”

Chris got his dinner at the corner Chinese takeout. Marie, his girl friend, was flying in next morning from London. She played viola for a chamber music ensemble that was much in demand. In fact, she was on the road more than he was.

He ate heartily. Egg drop soup. Jumbo Prawns. Pork fried rice. It was simple fare but so good. This Chinaman knew what he was doing. You could count on him
every time.

He called the hospital to get an update on Murphy. Jenny, a charge nurse at the ER who Chris knew from way back, answered. It turned out they really had saved Murphy’s bacon. He had been at the outer limit of the DT’s. He was detoxing in the Psych ward. He had decent insurance. He was good for at least ten days.

“With any luck, you’ll see Mr. Murphy in the rooms, in a couple of weeks,” she said.

He called Murphy’s mother. The phone rang and rang – and he was about to hang up when the old lady answered.

“Mrs. Murphy? I just wanted you to know John is okay. They’ve given him some meds and he’s resting comfortably. Are you okay?

“Oh, I’m fine. I’m so worried about Johnny. He lost his girl, you know. After eight years. Last Thursday they broke up. It’s so sad. That’s when he started drinking so much. He says he loves Trudy. He gave her anything she wanted. But she wanted him to come and live with her and he wouldn’t do it. So she ended it. That’s when the drinking got bad.”

“Well, Mrs. Murphy, he’s safe now. He’s going to detox under medical supervision – and they’ll also introduce John to AA so he can learn how to stay sober.”

“I know about AA. John’s father tried it. But he died.”

“John’s father died of drink?”

“Yes, he died 28 years ago. He was a good man.”

“Well, Mrs. Murphy, I can see how this would be very upsetting to you.
There’s a part of AA, called Alanon, which is meant for the loved ones of people who are recovering from Alcoholism. Would you be interested in attending an Alanon meeting to see what it’s like?”

“I suppose I would. But how would I get there? I have trouble driving these days.”

“No worries. I’ll drive you. I go to Alanon myself now and then. Tell you what, I’ll check the Alanon Meeting Directory to see if I can find a meeting close to you and then I’ll call you back.”

Chris found a Beginner’s Meeting scheduled for 8:30 that night within easy driving distance at the St Luke Catholic Church annex.

He called Mrs. Murphy and told her he would pick her up at 8:15. She said she would be ready.

“Thanks for driving me,” she said. “I think Alanon will be good for me even though Johnny just came back.”

“John just came back?” Chris could hardly believe it.

“Yes, he came in about five minutes ago and went straight to bed.
He said he was fine and to thank you.”

Chris said he’d be by to pick her up at 8:15.

He took a shower and changed. He still reveled in the luxury of a long hot shower. It was an amenity Alexander the Great had never enjoyed.

He called and checked with his section head. She ragged Chris about busting the girls at the liquor store.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

He didn’t say anything for a moment and then he laughed hard.

“They were sweet young things who blew away the Mom & Pop liquor store owners with sawed off double ought pumps. I’ll bet I get a frigging medal.”

It had been a very long time since he had gotten in the last word.

Chris drove out to the condo to take Mrs. Murphy to the Alanon meeting. It was totally amazing that Murphy had come home from the hospital. Chris wondered how he had gotten out of the Psych unit. Maybe the girl friend had picked him up and driven him back. He would have to ask the old lady.

As Chris approached the door of the condo, his cell buzzed.

“Is this Chris?” the voice said. The number was blocked.

“Yes”, Chris said. “Who’s this?”

“John Murphy. I want to thank you and Billy for saving my life.”

“John Murphy? I thought you came home. Where are you?”

“I’m in D-Tox in the Psych ward. I’m feeling so much better. They gave me a shot – I don’t know what it was – but my shakes went right away and I’m feeling so much better. You guys saved my life. I’m going to get sober and get married to Trudy. I’ve waited too long.”

“That’s great, John. I’m right outside your condo now. Your mom asked me to drive her to an Alanon meeting. That’s a support group for people who have loved ones having trouble with alcohol. You mom said you broke up with Trudy.”

“No, Chris, that’s my crazy mom. Trudy and I have never been better.
My mom hates Trudy – she thinks Trudy is trying to take me away from her. My mom is always making things up.”

“Well, she had me believing you were home and that you and Trudy were done. “

“See what I’m up against?”

“Well, John, hang in there. It does get better.”

“Thanks, Chris. You guys saved my life. Watch out for my mom. You never know with her.”

“OK, John. I’ll take good care with your mom. You concentrate on getting better. Billy and I will be there to help you when you come out.”

Chris shut his phone and rang the bell on the condo door.

“Who is it?” said Mrs. Murphy through the door.

“It’s Chris – come to take you to the Alanon meeting.”

“Oh, it’s you.”

The door opened. Mrs. Murphy was standing there in a black nightgown.

She said, “You bastard. You’re working with that whore to take my Johnny away.”

Chris was about to say that she needed to put on a dress to go to the meeting when she raised her fleshy arm way over her head. She was holding a long carving knife. Chris saw her plunge the knife down with surprising speed right at his heart. He tried to dodge away but it was too late.

He was down on his back.

He was amazed and very embarrassed the old lady had got him.

The knife was sticking out of his chest.

The handle was inscribed “John & Sara 1949.”

It hurt. His vision was going.

The last thing he heard was,

“Die you bastard! You’ll never take my Johnny away!”


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  1. Posted December 19, 2014 at 6:18 am | #

    Wow! Never does a good deed go unpunished. It grips you all the way through and then hits you with a spectacular payoff. This is terrific work by a fine writer.

  2. Posted December 19, 2014 at 7:01 am | #

    A few twists and a few turns and a WOW ending. Gives credibility to the old phrase “No good deed goes unpunished”

  3. Posted December 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm | #

    Two-fisted fiction, as usual, though perhaps more realistic than we know. A mutual friend bears the name Chris, and might have supplied much of the raw material.

  4. Posted December 22, 2014 at 9:38 am | #

    Wild twist of ending. Right from the beginning our expectations about who is dangerous and violent are toyed with. Then the ending flips it all on it’s head. Those who are seemingly least violent can be the most lethal. Riveting, chilling. Great artwork, too.

  5. Posted January 7, 2015 at 12:28 pm | #

    Vintage Jones, no doubt.

  6. Posted January 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm | #

    Well played! I knew there’d be a turn in the road, but not this one, leading to our hero’s dead-end!

  7. Posted January 15, 2015 at 11:27 am | #

    Surprise! Didn’t see that coming. Guess you have to always watch your back (or chest).

  8. Posted January 30, 2015 at 2:45 pm | #

    This is a piece that I’d like to see longer with more character development. The plot is very engaging and kept me reading and the each of the characters, even the teen girls, are easy to connect with.

  9. Posted January 25, 2016 at 10:31 am | #

    Pow. I’m dead. Brutal.

  10. Posted February 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm | #

    Great Knife Mathew!

    Jones is a lean mean writing machine- he sucks you in with elegant simplicity and hyper realism.I could picture the store location and the alley with total clarity; that is not easy to do.
    Never saw that ending coming, but it made sense; alcohol and drugs kill, guns kill, words live.