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This is a prequel to the Max Pemberton detective stories already published. We’re rewinding the clock ten years. We’ll eventually get to when Max inherited Nicky’s Diner. It’s a winding path to get there, but of course you knew that Max never does anything in a straight line.

Here’s the chronological breakdown of Max’s stories:


Cold Steel

Hot Steel

Pink Ice


Loss of Innocence

Revenge is Best Served Cold

To Hell… And Back

Please vote… comment… it’s catnip for me.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, merchandise, companies, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. All characters in sexual situations are 18 years or older.

mael·strom (noun)

a powerful whirlpool in the sea or a river.
a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil.

Chapter One


My alarm went off at its usual 4:30 a.m., cutting short a pleasant dream about sex that had left me wet and wanting. I woke up to the harsh reality of being alone in a darkened room with a nasty hangover. Of course I was in a fleabag motel in the shit part of Cincinnati.

I sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing my temples to relieve the pounding sensation that was the natural result of the two bottles of cheap vodka I’d consumed the previous evening. As punishment, and a constant reminder of my sin, every five seconds I’d see the flash of the green neon lights of the roadside “Royal Palms” sign shining through my room’s wafer thin curtains.

I’d inhabited Room 204 for the past six months. The rent was cheap, and paying at their monthly rate was far less than renting an apartment in a respectable neighborhood. Let’s face it. I was lazy and broke, though mostly lazy. I had vowed to find a new place after my previous apartment was converted to condos. As with many promises I made to myself (like quitting drinking), that one was broken as well. One week turned into two, and two turned into four, and before I knew it I was six months into my residency at one of the West End’s three “working” motels.

I lived on the second floor, which gave me front row seats to all the action in the parking lot. One of my favorite pastimes was taking my trusty lawn chair (you know, one of those flimsy white molded plastic chairs available at the Dollar Store), and sitting on the concrete walkway outside my room. I’d drink a beer and watch the hookers and johns negotiating prices and the occasional drug deal in plain view in the motel’s parking lot. The police didn’t bother these folks. There was no time or resources to deal with non-violent crime.

At that point in my life I was my worst enemy. I started drinking again after two weeks of abstinence, (just to prove to myself that I could quit). Who was I fooling? I liked drinking, and living in the West End and drinking yourself into a stupor every night was de rigueur in that neck of the woods. When I was drinking every day I started with cheap whiskey and found I could tolerate cheap vodka better. I was drinking some sort of flavored vodka that was promotionally priced at $1.99 a pint. Anyway, my usual was two pints, and by the end of the second bottle the yelling in the parking lot turned into a soothing hum as I happily dozed off.

I used to work this beat, which is how I knew the intimate details of my abode. I think I’d busted someone in almost every room of this decrepit motel at one time or another. Everyone who was a regular there knew I was a cop and left me alone. I parked my car in the Palm’s open parking lot, which was ordinarily an invitation to have it stripped or stolen. But I’d made it known that no one touches my 1994 Honda Civic. And no one did.

That morning, like most, started with me rolling out of bed and wadding up my pajamas and tossing them onto the bed like a slovenly teenager. When I came back to my room in the evening my room would be picked up, my bed would be made and my pajamas would be neatly folded and put under my pillow. I liked that. The housekeeping staff took special care with my room because they liked the idea of a female cop watching over them. And I did.

I took a shower and wiped myself off with a thick, terrycloth towel. The Royal Palms towels, if you can call them that, were so thin that when you held them up to the light you can see right through them. Not my towels. I used my own luxury brand that was one of my few guilty pleasures in life. The housekeeping staff always kept a supply of clean, fluffy towels on the bathroom counter because they knew I loved them.

When I dried off, my towel went over a ripple of fat that was forming around my waist. I prided myself on staying in good shape (and you had to be in good shape to work in bahis şirketleri the West End), but my nightly drinking and frequent restaurant visits made the beginnings of love handles. One of the drawbacks of living at the Royal Palms was that there was nothing but fast food in my neighborhood. The closest place with home cooked food was Flores’s Diner, which happened to be owned by the father of one of my best friends. It also had the best fried chicken in Cincinnati. There was always a line outside Flores’s, but I always got to cut to the front, so their crispy, juicy chicken became at least a once a week dining option.

Aside from beautiful women and fried chicken, my other obsession was with alcohol. I admit it. I liked to drink. I didn’t just need it, I liked it. It soothed the aches and pains of the day, and helped me forget the miserable things people do to one another. Another thing, my job encouraged drinking. The key to good police work is team building. How better to build team spirit than drinking together almost every night at the Landing Point, a dive bar a few minutes from the station and just a short walk to the shores of the Ohio river? It was the go to place for off duty cops. Most nights after work we’d all go down to the Point and drink and play darts. It was time for the alcohol and the bullshit to flow, and it was the best part of the day.

There was so much steam to blow off after a day battling the bad guys in the West End. It was great to get drunk with your work buddies and be able to laugh. You know, laughing until your ribs hurt. Some of the best times of my life.

Everyone at work knew I was gay, but it wasn’t an issue at the station. I’d gotten more than one officer out of a bind, and who wants to piss off someone who was willing to save your life? They respected my openness about my sexual orientation, and I believe their feelings were sincere.

You’re probably wondering if I checked out the other women in the station. I did. There were some hotties but I told myself that an affair with another officer wasn’t a good idea. But I did look. I’d recently noticed a cute little blonde who was assigned to our station as a swing. She was filling in for absent officers, and had arrived a few months ago. I’d seen her in the break room a couple times but never bothered to find out her name.

I’d been working the West End as a beat cop for five years, starting straight out of the police academy. As a woman, and a newbie, it was a harsh way to cut your teeth as a peace officer. There was no peace in the West End. You had to be on your guard one hundred percent of the time. It was a real test of whether I really wanted to be a police officer. I’ve asked myself that question a number of times, up until even now. Maybe being with the West End inhabitants 24/7 made me appreciate that nothing is taken for granted. Not even your life.

But five years on the streets as a foot soldier was enough. I wanted to be a detective, and my first logical move was to Vice to prove my worth before applying to be a detective. Of course, moving to a new group meant starting on the bottom rung. Shit flowed downhill, and I would be the bucket once again.

I’d been told that upper management had issued an edict to clean up the West End’s burgeoning prostitution trade. I was to be assigned a new partner and told to report to the new leader of the Vice squad, for my marching orders.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I had a hand (though inadvertent) in my old partner’s demise. He was actually a pretty nice guy. He was quite a bit older than me, hard-working, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Ed. Ed Ryburn. Anyway, Ed and I were working on a burglary call in the West End. It was some small sewing notions shop, or something like that, where the plate glass window in front was broken with a brick. Amateurs.

I was talking to the owner of the shop, an elderly white haired lady, who was waving her arms and frantically trying to explain to me how she almost got into a traffic accident driving to the store after being notified of the break in. Nothing in the store was taken because the cash register was emptied by the owner (and sewing supplies were not exactly the easiest things to fence). She was droning on about her insurance coverage and the mess she had to clean up, when out of the blue some skinny kid on one of those motorized skateboards with a handle zipped up to us.

The idiot jerked the purse off the poor woman’s arm and took off on his skateboard. Right in front of me… in uniform. He was a druggie who was obviously desperate. I took off after him, chasing him to the corner as he was weaving around people and debris on the sidewalk. Ed was coming out of a Starbucks holding two large coffees and a pastry for himself in a cardboard tray. I managed to run down the thief and grab the handle of the purse. The guy lost his balance and came crashing down on the sidewalk head first.

Ed had just enough time to see the bahis firmaları scooter cartwheeling towards him. The handle hit him in the family jewels. He dropped the hot coffee on his crotch and gave his aching balls a scalding shower. I don’t think I’ve heard a primal scream quite like the one he let out. Needless to say, he went on an extended medical leave and I had a lot of explaining to do at the station.

I’d been without a partner for a month, and in that time I filled in for officers who called in sick, even if they weren’t in my department. I wanted an assignment, but our leader was one week from his promotion out of the department so my request was at the bottom of his in box.

I thought that being my new partner wasn’t all bad. I was funny and I could drink anyone under the table. I knew the West End like the back of my hand. I was somebody you’d want on your side if you had to fight your way out of a tight spot. But having Ed in the hospital wasn’t a ringing endorsement to work with me.

I’d heard a rumor that Barry Neufeld, some guy from Homicide, was transferring in to run our department. Didn’t hear a lot more, but I did hear that he didn’t get along with women. That wasn’t good news for me. I needed a partner and some routine to my life.

* * *

Neufeld had been in our department for a week. I was hoping he would call me to his office and assign me a new partner and some work befitting a detective. Radio silence. Since I’d given it a week, I decided to collar him after the morning briefing. It was the usual thirty minutes of my life that I won’t get back. Boring and useless information. He was chatting with someone when I horned in.

“Lieutenant Neufeld, could we have a word?” I asked him, as nice as I could.

“What can I do for you, Officer…”

We had been introduced, but he clearly didn’t remember my name. Asshole.

“Pemberton,” I told him. “Max Pemberton.”

“Ah yes, Officer Pemberton.”

He paused for a second to assess his next question before he asked it. Clearly he had been to the mandatory sensitivity training for all personnel. The training however, was faulty, because he asked his question.

“Max… Max… isn’t that a boy’s name? Are you… some kind of a dyke or something?”

It took every ounce of my willpower not to punch him.

“Well, Lieutenant Neufeld, Max is short for Maxine. Maxine is a girl’s name, thank you,” I said to him with just the right amount of righteous indignation. I wasn’t even going to acknowledge his other question.

“Sure Pemberton. So what can I do for you?”

“I’m wondering who my new partner will be.”

“Of course…”

He had no fucking idea of what I was talking about. I decided to spell it out for him.

“You’re supposed to assign me a new partner.”

“Uh huh,” he grunted. “Why don’t you see me at the end of the day?”

That was fine. He needed the time to figure out what I wanted and what he needed to do. Great, an ignorant asshole.

* * *

It was the end of my shift, and my last task of the day was to meet with Lieutenant Neufeld. I knocked on the glass panel of his half-open office door.

“Detective Pemberton reporting as ordered,” I said as I entered his office. His office had no pictures on the wall, no plants, no photographs of loved ones and generally lacked the accoutrements of a well-rounded person. Most of his moving boxes were still on the floor, untouched, even though he’d been in there for a week.

He looked just like you imagined. Short, overweight, balding, with a major chip on his shoulder.

He also wasn’t a fan of interpersonal relationships. There was no introduction and no small talk. He simply launched into his soliloquy on our “mission” while I stood there and listened with my mouth shut. Maybe he’d forgotten that the reason for the meeting was to assign me a new partner.

“So the reason I wanted to see you was to tell you about your new assignment.”

What about my new partner? He really had forgotten.

“We been tasked with increasing our prostitution arrests in the West End. They’ve been a lot of complaints from local merchants.”

“Sir, with all due respect, there’s a pretty heavy drug traffic in the West End, and the drugs are pushing the violent and property crime numbers up.”

The veins in his neck started to bulge. “Did I ask for your opinion Pemberton?”

“No sir.”

“Then keep your trap shut.”

I waited for him to speak again. He realized he hadn’t asked me a question.

“Now go out there and get me some arrests. My weekly report is due in three days. I need two more.”

What fucking bullshit. Managing police work by the numbers?

I thought about it, and quickly realized Neufeld would make my life a living hell if I didn’t produce the arrests he needed for his report. So I was going to get two arrests for him, one way or another.

I started getting up out of my chair. But then he spoke again.

“And Pemberton?”

“Yes kaçak bahis siteleri sir.”

“I’m assigning you a new cadet as your partner. Lesley Groesbeck. Go find her tomorrow morning after our briefing.”

“Yes sir.”


Well, I did learn who my new partner was. Lesley Groesback. Shit, that last name rang a bell but I couldn’t place it. I was pondering the name as I left Neufeld’s office, with neither of us uttering a goodbye and me trying to remember if I’d ever met her before.

* * *

Neufeld had taken over the morning briefings. His predecessor at least told a joke or two and had a couple of boxes of donuts and Danishes outside the meeting room. Not Neufeld. He wanted to economize so we had to bring our own food and coffee. He bragged about how much we were saving the department. I wanted a fucking chocolate old fashioned donut with my coffee. The only thing keeping me awake during the meeting was the excellent coffee I’d brought in my trusty thermos. Do not underestimate the value of good coffee during a boring meeting. Forsaking the dreck at the police station, I opted for a coffee bean roaster on Hamilton Avenue that made a custom blend for me. I hid the stash in my locker and brewed a fresh pot at the beginning of every day, filling a large thermos and guarding it with my life.

I was sitting in the back half of the room listening with one ear to Barry’s drivel while the seductive smell and taste of the coffee took me someplace more pleasant. My eyes moved over the sea of uniformed police personnel, trying to figure out who my new partner was. It was hard doing this work from the last row when I could see only the back of their heads. There were two possibilities, one was a tall red headed woman blocking my view sitting in the front row. I’d seen her a few times in the hallway and I think she had just graduated from the Academy. I knew she wasn’t assigned yet. There was also a short cute looking blonde in the row ahead of me. She’s the one I had my eye on earlier.

The blonde was paying attention to what Neufeld was saying while I was looking at her. Her face had that young healthy glow, flawless skin and from what I could tell a nice figure under her tight fitting uniform. Now she looked strangely familiar but I couldn’t place her.

After I got tired of trying to figure out who my new partner was I picked up my phone and started going through a slew of unread e-mails. We were supposed to turn off our phones when we went into the briefing, but most of us didn’t, and of course I was one of the many offenders. As I was tapping a response, I suddenly realized there was silence in the room… and everyone was looking at me.

“I said isn’t that right Pemberton?” Barry was staring at me and waiting for an answer. I could hear the room’s wall clock ticking. Blood was rushing in my ears. I think time stood still.

“That’s right sir,” I answered automatically after being stunned by his question. I had no idea what he was talking about and everyone in the room knew it. I heard muffled laughing. This was truly an “oh shit” moment.

“That’s right what?” he asked me, twisting the knife one more time. There were audible snickers from the others who were enjoying my plight. The room was feeling quite warm and I had a sudden urge to pee.

“That’s right to whatever you were saying sir,” I answered, now clearly floundering in the middle of his ocean without a life preserver.

“You have no fucking idea what I was saying, do you Pemberton?”

Of course I didn’t. Why else would I put all of us through this ridiculous exchange?

I heard myself say “No sir.” It was not a good feeling.

“Our group has been assigned to raise $1,000 for the Police Benevolent Association annual fundraising drive. I was just telling everyone what a fine job you’d do running this year’s campaign. You just agreed that I’m right. So congratulations.”

There was spontaneous applause as well as raucous laughing. I was just stuck with the worst job in the station, asking my fellow officers for money.

“And I want to remind you we’ve never missed our target in twenty years.”

Money was tight for everyone, and the person in charge (which was now me), would have to make up any shortfall from our fundraising goal. I only had $300 in the bank. Score one for Neufeld. Classic Max fuck-up.

He snapped his notebook shut. “That will be all.”

I received mock congratulations from many of the officers as they filed out of the meeting. A lesson learned the hard way about irritating my new boss, who already hated me.

* * *

I spotted the tall redhead first. I was hoping she was Lesley. She was close to six foot, and looked like an Olympic athlete. I tapped on her broad shoulder.

“Lesley Groesbeck?”

She snapped around. She had just seen me abused by Neufeld and wasn’t interested in talking to me. “No,” she replied curtly to me. “Lesley’s over there.”

She pointed to the teeny blonde who was sitting in front of me. She looked like a short Barbie, with a curvy body and skinny legs. She was talking to a much taller man, who was looking at the top of her head, or maybe down at her perky breasts.

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