The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Villain Doesn't Shoot But He Still Scores!

Fiona - Today, we're talking about your maybe-villain and ill-gotten goods. I can see where you could make this your hero depending on the situation - a character who is breaking the rules for a greater good. But one can assume in a villain's mind that their survival is the greater good and therefore they are indeed heroes, too.

To that end, my friend Elias is here to chat. Elias, can you introduce yourself to folks, telling us about your present situation and your past experience?

EliasMy name is Elias McClellan and I worked in the criminal and family courts as a clerk, (intern) paralegal, and compliance officer for over 12 years. 

Prior to that, I grew up in Houston's 2nd ward as it went into steep decline with the oil bust, and then onslaught of drugs in the 1980s.

Several of my family members who lost jobs/businesses/homes turned to the family business (crime) to put food on the table. This included armed robbery, car theft, and drug running--all long since busted up. 

As a result, I learned early how easy it is to score pretty much anything you can pay for--especially illegal guns. 

Fiona - We are conducting this interview April 3, 2020 as the United States is just climbing up the side curve on the pandemic charts. We're doing okay. Most of us are barricaded in our homes by governmental order, but we can access food and medicine. 

Let's put this scenario into a story. Things are going badly. We're in a do-or-die plot, and I feel that I would want you on my zombie apocalypse team. Someone with useful skills.

If you were the leader of our groups' procurement what are the basic steps to getting supplied?

Elias - I have two responses based on two different mindsets: 

Eighteen-year-old me is going to the local auto shop where I know the mechanic, and we're cool (because I've financed his children's dental work with my unrequited love for a 1979 Olds Regency). While I sit there and chew the fat, I wait for the local thieves to cycle through. I can score meat from the back of the truck, booze from the back of a truck, entertainment equipment, and of course any number of firearms stolen as recently as this morning. The quality will be iffy and for the guns it's nearly dollar-for-dollar to retail, but it's cash-and carry.

Meanwhile 50-something-year-old me will go to the sticks where the Texas survivalists trade home-jarred preserves, honey, and veggies--and sell any number of "clean" guns in the parking lot.

Fiona - In the mechanics scenario are you buying from the thieves or are you just taking things out of their cars?

Elias - Buying from the thieves. It's safer than buying from drug dealers or taking a chance at buying from Joe the bartender (who often sells guns, drugs, and info to the cops). 

FionaTell me about clean guns, please.

Elias - The so-called "clean" gun is supposedly unregistered to any buyer or seller. Typically it is either an old pistol originally bought prior to the networking federal firearms registry system used by most sellers (including pawn shops) when trading guns.

The other type is usually a foreign gun brought home by a GI or any number of contractors and therefore never entered into the system. You see a TON of Soviet-era weapons at Texas gun shows. Ironically enough you see a lot of person-to-person sales in the parking lot too.

Fiona - How would our villains go about assessing someone for a possible trade/sale? How would they make an approach?

Elias - From a bar or as previously described mechanic shop, relationships are key.

The swap meet is not as relationship-intensive but of course there are race and gender biases. In an absence of any such relationships, I'm going to the gun show and looking for people--not at vendor tables--looking to sell their weapons. In many cases, they show up with their AKs, ARs, and handguns and stroll around.

I'm looking for dirty hands, calluses, and/or desperation around the eyes.

Cops typically don't have working hands and while there are junky-acting cops, you can't fake the thirst for a drink or the meth-addict scratch. The addicts are the guys most likely to sell you that AK for retail or less and not arrest you.

Fiona - Okay, if my character needed some quick cash, I could easily roll them around in some dirt, they'd have the desperation in their eyes. I can write that - it's very vivid in my imagination now.

Elias - You strike up a conversation asking about the weapon. Then you ask if they're looking to sell. Some times, the buyer finds you. A once-upon-a-time neighbor bought a "clean" CZ75 while he was trying to buy another guy's Spas12.

To clarify another point: people will swap guns to get their car out of the shop. My stepdad was a 3-time convicted felon and always had guns (even though he couldn't legally own them) based on people bringing him guns for repair work.

Fiona - When you're reading a book or watching a show, what do you see writers getting wrong?

Elias - You don't haggle when buying an illegal gun. You either pay for it or you walk away. Otherwise you run the risk of getting robbed for your money. Also, the buyer turns the gun over in their hands without trying the action to see if—even then there's no guarantee—it’ll work.

[In plots] they always get "cool" Berettas, Glocks, and 1911s. Two movies that get it right are "Set it Off," and "Light Sleeper." In the first Queen Latifah complains (over the antique revolver she is offered by the gun source) that she's not robbing stagecoaches. In the latter, Willem Dafoe complains that the .38 revolver the drug dealer sells him is higher in price than retail and the dealer (without batting an eye) says "so?"

In the books, there's a lot of science fiction, even among the greats. Richard Stark has a toyshop owner selling Thompson guns in 1970s America. Most of those weapons were out of the country or in grandpa's basement.

In the movies, they never look the gun over. But in the real world it truly is caveat emptor. My stepdad got taken on a stolen M1 Garand because he didn't check/failed to see the barrel had been swadged.

You have to know what you're doing, or they will sell you junk.

*swage  /swāj/
past tense: swaged; past participle: swaged

shape (metal) using a swage, especially in order to reduce its cross section.

Houston is a soggy dishrag and nobody really practices good gun storage. The moisture will rust guns, sure. But even when you can't see the rust, it'll lock up the action so you can't eject the clip or cylinder. I've seen it so bad that you can't pull the trigger or hammer.

Fiona - You mentioned not getting robbed of your money. Can you share other mistakes newbies might make?

Elias - They make decisions based on movies.

Movies sell you on Colts, Smiths, Berettas, and Glocks. I saw guys pass up Taurus and Rossi pistols in the 1980s because they're both made in South America. Both are dependable cheap weapons. Taurus even took a steady diet of really crappy .9mm that jammed up Berettas.

Samuel L. Jackson said that 1911s have a jamming problem in "Jackie Brown" so people think 1911s have a jamming problem. Some 1911s have an ammo problem and can only take high grain rounds.
Biggest mistake is buying more weapon than can be handled. I thoroughly enjoy my .44 special, but I don't mess with magnums. 

I can drive nails with my .40 Glock but a 1911 requires regular practice. Other than that, there's cleaning issues, (they never come cleaned and ready to go) and knowing how to do basics, (changing springs etc.).

Fiona - Tell me about your writing, what are you up to?

Elias - I am currently shopping a heist novel set in the 1980s. 

I have articles on crime writing and that hood life at

Fiona - It's a tradition to ask you the story behind your favorite scar, would you indulge us?

Elias - I have a four-inch trench running behind my left ear from a mastoidectomy when I was an infant. It ruined any chance of military service--or enjoyment of air travel, but it always freaks doctors --and my RN Missus--the hell out.

Fiona - Thank you so much, Elias, for being here and talking about your unique life-experience and perspective. 

On Twitter, I've met and enjoyed hanging out with Elias under his handle TuttleNTexas. He's very funny and a great support to writers. Follow him there!

Thanks for stopping by to read ThrillWriting articles. As we move through this pandemic, KU reads and sales are down for authors across the board. This may be the ONLY paycheck that the author's family is getting. 

Support your favorite authors by reading their works on Kindle Unlimited, buying them if you can, telling your friends about your favorite authors, so they can escape into a good book. We can look out for each other and lift each other up. 

Be safe. Be well.