30 September 2011

In the Shadows


by R.T. Lawton

C'mon in. Pull up a Bacardi and Coke, throw in a slice of lime, make yourself comfortable and let's talk. Some of you already know me and that's fine. Some of you may have heard a little about me amd that's fine too. And, some of you may be asking yourself, "Who the heck is this guy?" And, that's really okay. I don't mind at all.

See, I spent twenty-five years in the shadows using several different aliases on the street, trying to avoid publicity. In my prior business, if you became known then you'd best be working in a very large population area, else move on to other territory. There's nothing like walking into a house or a bar undercover and suddenly realizing there's somebody in the place who knows you and what you do. Yeah, it's happened, ...more times than I would have liked.

Oh sure, I had a gun tucked inside my belt and concealed back underneath my shirt, but I only carried one. The other side often had their own weapons, and there was usually more than one of those guys at our little get-togethers. Yes, I did have a surveillance team as close as they could get and still stay out of sight, but most of the time they were several minutes away when seconds might count. And no, I didn't like to wear a wire transmitting our conversation to the outside just in case the opposition decided to shake me down. Guns they didn't mind. After all, they had their own and half expected you to do the same, but wires tended to bother them. Plus, some of the more sophisticated organizations had electronic equipment to detect transmitting frequencies that weren't theirs.

Let's just say they were a very untrusting lot, so when I pretended to be someone else, I had to have my story straight. There were times in the old Kansas City days when I taped a piece of paper on the wall by the phone. The left hand column listed the aliases I was using and the right hand column had the names of potential defendants who'd be calling for that particular name. business was good. No doubt there're a few psychiatrists out there who have written dissertations on multiple personalities and therefore have strong opinions on the subject. As for me, to this day I'll still answer to a lot of different names if I think someone is talking to me. It's a different life, but you get used to it.

Don't get the wrong idea, the job wasn't all excitement. Our Rule of Thumb said it was ninety percent boredom: doing paperwork, or waiting for the snitch to call, or the potential defendant to show up at a pre-arranged meeting site. Seems a lot of them boys couldn't tell time very well even if some did wear a Rolex. Only about ten percent of the job was adrenaline: stepping into the criminal world with a made up story as to who you were this time, or kicking doors with an arrest warrant when the case was done and the object of your intentions might have made up his mind he wasn't going back behind the walls for another stint, or taking the wheel in a high speed surveillance breaking red lights and hoping nothing went wrong.

Anonymity was my friend back then. In any case, I think you can see why it's kinda difficult for me sometimes to step out into the bright lights where most authors go when they're seeking publicity in order to advance their writing career.

Turns out, even my first three short stories got published in an undercover fashion. In those days, the federal agency I worked for didn't allow its Special Agents to have any outside employment. Somehow, they even construed this policy to to prohibit the writing and publishing of short stories. However, since the agency also taught us how to construct an alias with appropriate documents, and how to work undercover, I merely put their training to use. The byline on those first three stories was a nickname I used on the street, the payment checks came to a Post Office box in the name of an undercover alias, and the checks... well, let's just say it was easier in those days to cash them under a name that wasn't yours. Obviously, the agency had an excellent training program because none of this came to their attention.

Now I'm retired, so I write short mystery fiction for fun and profit. Roughly a third of my stories have been sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine where I have four different series going. Where do I get my story characters? Most of them walk right in off the street from the old days and sit down for a little chat from the past. Them people haven't aged a bit, they're frozen in time. Plots and story lines? These guys are all scam artists and they want their stories told, even if it is the fictionalized version. Call it a form of immortality through the printed word.

Okay, here's my first installment on this blog, so if you got any questions or topics you'd like brought up, just shoot 'em in. Who knows, they could end up in one of our future talks.

Well, it's getting late, my glass is empty and I got to go. Be looking for you in a couple of weeks. Seems I signed up for this gig on the Fortnight Plan. Guess you could say that way I can still keep one foot in the shadows where I find life more comfortable. See ya around.

16 comments:

Robert Lopresti said...

Nicely moody, R.T. I hope we can expect to hear some war stories in fortnights to come. Welcome to the party.

Velma said...

Yeah! A noir kinda guy. Pssst! I think those Monday chicks like bad boys.

Fran Rizer said...

Great introduction, R.T. I grew up in love with Mike Hammer and Shell Scott. (Does anyone besides me remember Shell Scott?) Guess Velma is right about the bad boy attraction, but as a refined little old Southern lady penning cozies, I don't talk about such things. Besides, I'm not so sure that you're as much a bad boy as a damn fine writer!

BTW, I like the corn and thought I'd follow Rob's suggestion and use it to inspire a story, but Stephen King's already written Children of the Corn.

John Floyd said...

Well done, R.T. I know what you mean, about having characters stroll in from the old days.

Good to have you with us.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Great intro, R.T. I can see how it might blow your cover to have someone come up and ask for your autograph. ;)

Dale Andrews said...

I had the pleasure of being on a short story panel with R.T. at the St. Louis Bouchercon a few weeks back. R.T. explained there that two of his markets are biker magazines and women's magazines. This is either multi-tasking or serial-tasking. Anyway, welcome R.T. and HI!

Dixon Hill said...

Great post, RT. You rock, buddy!

And so do your stories. Hope you don't mind if I drink a beer while reading them, instead of Bacardi & Coke. Lol

Meanwhile, I hope to meet you in a dark alley some day—for a long talk.

R.T. Lawton said...

Thanks, guys. This is a great group to be in.

jimbobob said...

Nice intro R.T.,...but didn't it use to be Capt. Morgan and coke? Keep the stories coming

Leigh Lundin said...

I'm glad you're still constructing those cover stories, RT. Welcome!

A Broad Abroad said...

What an interesting choice of image, RT.
Talk about armed, cocked and ready for action...

Velma said...

(giggling) Leave it to ABA to spot the salacious.

A Broad Abroad said...

Velma, darlin', I was simply remarking on the outstanding calibre of the man!

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

I am intrigued and can't wait to hear more from you.

writingprivateinvestigators2@gmail.com said...

R.T. rocks.

Colleen & Shaun

stephen ross said...

Hi R.T., your column read like the opening of a story. I'm hooked. Will be back for more.