Bill Cameron’s Skin Kadash is as cantankerous as he is appealing. He’s not exactly the type to answer questions about himself, but Bill managed to get him to sit for a “skinterview,” and his answers are fascinating.
Enjoy! (and bonus point if you recognize the nod to Lawrence Block)
You’ve survived cancer and life as a homicide detective. You’ve obviously got a thick skin. But what scares you?
You open with the big guns, don’t you? Aren’t you supposed to start with a warm-up question? Boxers or briefs? Star Wars or Star Trek, something like that? What scares me? Jesus.
But, okay … okay. I agreed to this, didn’t I? Bloody hell.
Fine. Here it is: dying alone.
Time was, I figured I would die alone. And the prospect didn’t frighten me. It was inevitable. Guy like me pisses off more people than he befriends. Hell knows my police career is littered with aggrieved ex-partners. And my romantic history— well, let’s just leave that alone.
But somewhere along the way, something changed. I suppose the simplest way of putting it is I made a friend I didn’t want to lose. Combine that will a long career sorting through the flotsam left behind when strangers die and maybe you can see why my fear is bound up with my own end. If I die alone, it’s because I lost Ruby Jane. And losing Ruby Jane is something I don’t want to think about.
Sappy? Sure. Self-involved? I suppose. But, for fuck’s sake, you asked.
When you were growing up, did you have a pet?
So now you go soft on me.
My mother had little enough energy to keep track of me. An animal was out of the question. My best friend Tommy had a dog though, and since I spent as much time at his place as my own, it was like having a dog myself. Can’t remember the old mutt’s name now. But it was a good dog, bit of Lab, bit of Aussie, bit of horse maybe.
We used to take him to the park to retrieve balls which jumped the fence at the tennis courts. Run off into the bushes laughing as the players swore at us. Got ourselves a pretty good collection of balls that way.
Now, this was back when a beer can was an actual can, not a couple of sheets of aluminum foil pressed into a can shape. So you cut the ends out of three of beer cans and duct tape them together into a tube. Punch a few holes in the top of a fourth can and tape that end to the tube, then punch a hole in the side near the bottom. Stuff a tennis ball into the top—it’s snug but not tight. Squirt lighter fluid in the hole in the bottom, set a match to it, and whumpf! The tennis ball shoots a couple hundred feet. If you’re lucky, it will be on fire.
We could kill a day shooting tennis balls at each other, or maybe go down to the Willamette and shoot at water skiers. Good shit. When we ran out of balls, we’d head back to the tennis courts.
Yeah, that was a damn fine dog.
You’re a big coffee drinker. How do you take it? Any affinity for fancy drinks or flavors?
Left to my own devices, it’s coffee black. The first coffee I tasted was brewed by an old family friend, a kind of unofficial uncle named Andy Suszko. Good fellow. He’d dump grounds out of a can into a kettle with water and bring the soup to a boil. Let it cook for a bit until the grounds sank, then pour off a tar-colored gruel into heavy mugs. If I was being honest, I’d tell you it tasted like shit. But I loved it.
Ruby Jane is always trying new coffee and tea concoctions on me. I drink them, and occasionally I even like them. Sometimes a perfect, dry cappuccino hits the spot. But nothing can beat one of the Andy’s mugs of sludge.
You’ve been a retired from the force for a bit now…do you think you’ll get a PI license? Or do you prefer to just do favors for friends?
I met my share of private investigators over the years. Most of them are pros in the best sense of the word. Hard-working, do-the-job-the-right types. A few are skeezy douchebags—famewhores more interested in their own profile than serving the needs of their clients. What they all have in common is the most tedious job imaginable. I spent enough time with my head buried in databases as a police investigator. I’m sure as hell not gonna double-down on that now as a PI. I’d rather be a Wal-Mart greeter.
What kind of movies do you prefer: Dramas or comedies? Old or new?
About the only thing I don’t watch is rom-coms or anything based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Aside from that, I binge. I’ll go through an action kick, then an absurdist sci-fi kick, like those made-for-TV chucklefests involving animal/human hybrids (Mansquito) or animal/animal hybrids (Sharktopus). Follow that up with a fart-joke comedy kick, a Bogart kick, a Billy Wilder kick. (My favorite thing about cop movies is how no one ever has to write a firearm discharge report.) In the midst of it all, Ruby Jane is sure to pull up a thoughtful drama when it’s her turn with the Netflix queue, so I get plenty of that sorta thing without even trying.
And, yes, I confess to a fascination with Lifetime movies. So shoot me.
If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
When you live in Oregon, you can have a taste of just about anything you’d like within an hour or two. Beach, mountains, forest, bucolic valley, high desert. From a terrain standpoint, we’re fairly representative. All we lack is a tropical paradise, and folks down in Brookings might argue the point. I think I got my fill of the tropics during my tour Vietnam anyway. (And when he mentioned Vietnam, the room grew suddenly and uncomfortably quiet.)
But that wasn’t your question, was it? Bloody hell, am I wimping out if I just say I’ll go wherever Ruby Jane wants to go? And since she’s working all the time we don’t go anywhere except from one Portland food cart pod to the next? Works for me.
Portland and Seattle have always had a bit of a rivalry. What do you think Portland has going for it that Seattle lacks?
This is when I get to be a homer, right? Well, I’ll tell you, Portland and Seattle have more in common than either likes to admit. But, you ask me, with the exception of Jimi Hendrix and—maybe—Nirvana, Portland does it all better. Coffee, beer, street food—sorry, Seattle. We win.
Editorial note: I am prepared to defend Seattle’s honor on this point by arm wrestling Mr. Kadash at Bouchercon in St. Louis. Bill has said Skin might be up for that.
In a dangerous situation, if you could have any weapon except a gun, what would it be?
Is a car a weapon? Driving fast, in any direction so long as it’s away from the actual danger? That’s what I pick.
One of the things about being a homicide investigator is by the time you show up at a situation, the danger is past. I’m a pick-up-the-pieces kind of guy. I work best in the aftermath, sorting through someone else’s mess. I guess that means my brain is the only weapon I trust in a pinch. I just gotta hope I have some ammo on hand when I need it.