Countdown – a short story

I was asked to write this piece for Reflections Magazine as part of their tribute to SERVICE. The story that appeared in the magazine is approximately 1,200 words (due to space limitations). The version below is nearly 1,500 words. I hope you enjoy this quick read.



Much to my dismay, Kevin tells everyone I’m a ladies’ man. Obviously I don’t say anything, but I think he knows it annoys me. It would be one thing if it were in private, but no, no, no. Anytime any female shows me the smallest amount of attention, the first thing I hear is Kevin using a singsong tone to inform anyone in earshot that I’m a ladies’ man. It’s ridiculous—as if I’m some sort of gigolo. Besides, nothing could be further from the truth. Even in my younger days, I wasn’t what society considers handsome and I’m not in my younger days. The years have taken a toll on my body and my eyes have seen more than most.

“Ten more minutes,” he says after glancing at the readout on the dashboard.

These are the first words the usually chatty Kevin has spoken in quite some time. His somberness is making me uneasy. After all these years of being partners, I can pick up on his moods faster than anyone in the department. When you share a car with someone day in and day out, you get to know each other incredibly well. The fact we’re not like the other officers and sometimes drive hours because our skill sets are in demand, means we spend even more time together than a lot of partners. Sadly, it all comes to an end today.

Kevin becomes little more than a silhouette as the sun takes a bow beneath the Georgia horizon. From my vantage point, I can’t see his face even when the headlights from passing cars illuminate the passenger compartment, but I know he’s aged too. I wonder what he’s thinking about right now. Is he remembering the classes we went through together—all the schools, the setbacks, the moments when we thought we’d never be able to tolerate each other? But we made it, didn’t we Kevin?

He takes a hard right and now we’re off the main road. Gravel kicks up against the bottom of the SUV and we’re both jarred by potholes. Rural roads; city streets; skyscrapers; trailers; cabins; fishing boats; There isn’t much we haven’t seen. I doubt this call will be much different. We’ll pull up and the other cops will have a variety of reactions. The rookies will look on with curiosity; the grizzled veterans will toss knowing nods our direction; a supervisor will brief us on the parameters of the search; one or two disgruntled old-timers will mumble something snarky like, “Took you long enough” or “Well, thank heavens, the cavalry has arrived.” We ignore the jerks. We’re professionals and while nobody wants to need us, everybody wants to have us. That’s not arrogance, it’s just the way it is.

Kevin brings the vehicle to a stop and squeezes the microphone on his shoulder, talks and listens to the response. Then…nothing. We should be getting out of the car and heading to the scene, but Kevin is…just sitting there. He draws in a long breath and for a moment I think something’s happened because we aren’t getting out, which is starting to tick me off, because while every mission is its own reward, I get an actual reward after every mission, so turning around after making this ridiculously long drive isn’t an appealing prospect to me, so what…are…you…doing…Kevin? He looks at the readout on the dash again and speaks.

“It’s the end of our shift after this one. Then you’re officially retired.”

Oh. That.

Now he gets out of the car and walks around to let me out of the back. I know, I know…it’s a little unorthodox. Most partners ride in the front seat together. Don’t judge.

“Let’s see what we’ve got,” says Kevin as my feet hit the ground.

Kevin’s depression is rubbing off on me and now I’m feeling my motivation wane. We approach an area filled with patrol cars, their lights flashing. A female officer who’s in charge walks up to Kevin and starts giving him the rundown. She turns to me. Not wanting to be rude, I make eye contact as Kevin tells her my name.

“This is Tony,” says Kevin.

I introduce myself.

“I think he likes me,” says the woman.

Don’t say it, Kevin. Don’t you…

“Well, he’s a ladies’ man.”


I yank him away in the direction I think we need to go. I must be correct because he joins me. The truth is, I don’t need many details. I’m a highly-trained professional, but I’m single-minded in purpose. It’s simple in its complexity. That’s deep stuff.

The warehouse isn’t large and there aren’t many items piled up inside. The lighting isn’t great, but that’s not important as long as someone already checked to make sure I wouldn’t be stepping on broken glass. Like that time in Statesboro when that Sargent had sworn the floor was free of hazards. It wasn’t, and I’d ended up with a limp for four days. Man, Kevin was furious at that guy.

“Are you ready?” asks Kevin, as if I’ve ever answered.

“Seek!” he commands.

And that’s exactly what I do.


              Metal rails—no.

              Cardboard boxes—no.

              Old beer bottles, some playing cards, a magazine, and…what the? Yuk!—no!



              Shelves stacked with papers—no…wait…

I sit.

Kevin moves in right behind me. As usual, he doesn’t touch anything but he knows I found something. Oh, yeah! Mr. Floppy is mine. That’s my reward. When I find what I’m supposed to find, I get my toy, which is basically a tennis ball with a rope attached. I named him Mr. Floppy, because Mr. Tennis Ball would be a stupid name.

This is a really cool find for me, because usually I sit, we leave, and then Kevin walks outside, checks his watch, and calls in the bomb squad to take care of the issue. But this find is super convenient, because from my view down here I can see there is a readout just like on the dashboard on the car. So, Kevin shouldn’t have to check his watch since we have one right in front of us. But, now I see the flaws in my logic. First, Kevin is too tall and doesn’t see the readout which is on the bottom shelf. Second, the readout must be broken because it only has two numbers instead of three or four and they seem to be moving faster than the one I typically see on the dash of the car. Oh, well.

I look up at Kevin expectantly.

Back pocket, Kevin. Mr. Floppy is in your back pocket. Don’t play coy.

              But Kevin is being thorough. He takes a knee, cocks his head and glances at the lower shelf. Before I know what’s happening, Kevin’s grabbed my collar and has yanked me away.

“Go!” he yells.

Now we’re running toward the open door of the warehouse and I’m not familiar with this game, but if it gets me Mr. Floppy then I’m all for it. We’re almost to the door when it’s as if everything around me is being squeezed, like we hit the biggest pothole in the world, and there’s a blast of heat from behind us. Something doesn’t feel right and I’m not running anymore. I’m not sure where Kevin went and suddenly I’m sleepy. So very sleepy.


It’s almost time. Any moment now, the front door will open and this is when it all happens—just like yesterday, the day before that, and the day before that one. I hear the squeal of brakes, lift my head from my bed and shift Mr. Floppy, who has become quite the pillow hog, to his side. All that time I’d lived next door with Kevin, I’d had no idea what joy those brakes on the big yellow vehicle could bring. Once Kevin arranged for his neighbor Susie to adopt me, it took me no time at all to piece things together.

There it is. The rattle of the door. I stand up, although one of my back legs doesn’t work as well as it used to. A small price to pay for fulfilling my duty. In a flash, the door flies open and the girls run inside! My tail still works. It works just fine.

The next thing I know, Laura and Stef are rubbing me all over and—will all due respect to Mr. Floppy—this is the greatest reward of all time. In a few minutes, the girls will undoubtedly subject me to activities I’m not crazy about, like putting bows in my hair or making me wear a ridiculous hat. It’s just as well Kevin is at work with his new partner, because if he saw pink nail polish on me I’d never hear the end of it. But, it’s okay. I deal with it. What can I say?

I’m a ladies’ man.


– J.J. Hensley

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a Thriller Award finalist which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, Bolt Action Remedy, Record Scratch, Forgiveness Dies and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

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Upon being released after three years of incarceration in a psychiatric facility, former narcotics detective and unlicensed PI Trevor Galloway has no idea how to begin picking up the pieces of his shattered life. Having lost the woman he loved and exacting revenge upon those responsible, he is irreparably broken, heavily medicated, and unemployable.

When former Secret Service agent Nick Van Metre knocks on Trevor Galloway’s door, the last thing he expected was a job offer. However when the head of Metal Security hands Galloway a stack of photos and asks for his assistance with investigating a series of threats against a controversial presidential candidate, the former detective is stunned.

Galloway initially takes the case, but eventually has to question his own sanity after he reports an encounter with intruders who seem to have left no trace in his home. When Nick Van Metre turns up dead and an attack is carried out against Dennis Hackney, the former detective with a history of extreme violence becomes the focal point of multiple investigations.

Galloway pulls clues from photos and searches for answers while dodging bullets in Pittsburgh and Savannah.

Get set for a mystery told at a breakneck pace, with each of the chapters being linked to photograph in roll of film.

Look for the hints. Watch for the signs. Trevor Galloway doesn’t trust himself. Can you trust him?

The answers won’t be revealed until the final photo is flipped.


“Is someone setting Trevor Galloway up, or is his own mind deceiving him? Forgiveness Dies puts a uniquely fascinating protagonist–a detective who can’t trust his own perceptions–into a complex political thriller, and the result is propulsive. Hensley starts with a punch, and accelerates from there.” –Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Judgment and The Switch

“Inventive storytelling meets propulsive action in this wild thrill ride from J.J. Hensley, who brings real-life experiences to the page and delivers an authentic tale of double-crosses and dirty dealings. Don’t worry if you haven’t stepped into Trevor Galloway’s shadowy world yet…start right here, and you’ll soon want to read them all!” –Daniel Palmer, USA Today bestselling author of Stolen and Saving Meghan

“A snapshot of humanity in perfect focus. Edgy, furiously paced, raw. From the whip-smart dialogue to the deeply flawed characters, Hensley has a voice that will stay with you long after the final exposure.” –K.J. Howe, author of The Freedom Broker and Skyjack

Forgiveness Dies is a non-stop, gut churning thriller that you’ll read in one sitting. Hensley has conceived a brilliant but almost fatally flawed protagonist in Trevor Galloway, a man so tormented by his past that in the battle for truth and justice he’s forced to fight enemies that are dangerously real, and some that only real to him. J.J. Hensley is one of the best thriller writers out there, and he sits at the top of my must-read list.” –Mark Pryor, author of the Hugo Marston series

“With Trevor Galloway, the tortured, likable protagonist of J.J. Hensley’s Forgiveness Dies, Hensley has created a character destined to remain with the reader long after the last page is turned. Not only that, but readers will find themselves inextricably pulled into a tight plot that bears a brutally close, and necessary, resemblance to today’s America. Read this book, and you’ll want to read everything else Hensley has written.” –E.A. Aymar, author of The Unrepentant


“There are two types of men you must fear in this world: Men who have everything to lose—and men like me.”

It’s a case Trevor Galloway doesn’t want. It’s certainly a case he doesn’t need. The client—the sister of a murdered musician—seems a bit off. She expects Galloway to not only solve her brother’s homicide, but recover a vinyl record she believes could ruin his reputation. Galloway knows he should walk away. He should simply reach over the desk, give back the envelope of cash that he admittedly needs, and walk away. However, when the client closes the meeting by putting a gun under her chin and pulling the trigger, his sense of obligation drags him down a path he may not be ready to travel.

A story divided into twelve songs from Jimmy Spartan’s final album.


Record Scratch shocks you out of your ordinary groove. Sometimes witty, other times haunting, but when the needle jumps the track, the body count screams.” —Marc E. Fitch, author of Paradise Burns and Dirty Water

“In Record Scratch, Hensley, a former secret service agent, gifts us with a bounty of goods: a solid mystery, a damaged but relatable main character—one you root for, and swift plotting that weaves a compelling, compulsive tale of music and death and the demons carried by those in law enforcement. Bring me more Trevor!” —Shannon Kirk, international bestselling author of Method 15/33

“J.J. Hensley’s Record Scratch is a tersely written and tightly plotted gem, featuring one of the most unique protagonists around, Trevor Galloway, a man who has a way of getting himself into and out of trouble at an alarming rate. The book is action-packed with a dash of mordant wit, and I can’t wait to read more in this intense, engaging series.” —David Bell, USA Today bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter

“J.J. Hensley’s tale of a stoic PI investigating the murder of a has-been rock star is equal parts classic whodunnit and gritty noir, peppered with high-octane action scenes that will leave you breathless. Record Scratch is like a throat punch: powerful, shocking, and unapologetic, but the surprising poignant ending will stay with you a long after you’ve finished the book. This is a thriller that crackles from the first page to the last.” —Jennifer Hillier, author of Jar of Hearts


Buy it on Amazon!

Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: Skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated.

Galloway makes plenty of enemies as he sifts through stories about lucrative land deals, possible drug connections, and uncovers evidence suggesting the homicide may have been elaborate suicide. As he attempts to navigate through an unfamiliar rural landscape, he does his best not to succumb to an old drug addiction, or become confused by one of his occasional hallucinations. Oh, and a Pittsburgh drug gang enforcer known as The Lithuanian—if he’s even real—is tracking Galloway and wants to take his eyes. Galloway would rather keep those.

In Bolt Action Remedy, the typically quiet streets of Washaway Township, Pennsylvania become the epicenter of a mystery involving elite athletes and old grudges. For Galloway, the problems keep piling up and somebody out there believes problems should be dealt with by employing the most permanent of remedies.


image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.



In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology







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