31 October 2014

They Hung Lame Johnny

Not all the outlaws in the Old West became as famous as Butch Cassidy with his Hole in the Wall Gang or Jesse James with his bank robberies. Some were just lesser criminals who never rose to national fame. Here's one of those outlaws in the making.

Cornelius Donohue was born in Philadelphia some time about 1850. An injury from falling off a horse in his youth gave him the nickname of Lame Johnny. As an adult, Johnny wandered down to Texas to become a cowboy on a ranch. He showed up just as the cowboys were making plans to raid the Apaches who had stolen the ranch's horse herd. Johnny went along to help steal the horses back. In the subsequent exchange of raids between the cowboys and the Apaches, young Johnny soon acquired the skills needed to become an experienced horse thief.

A few years later, a man named John Francis Murphy was in Cheyenne, Wyoming, getting his bull teams and wagons ready to freight goods north to Deadwood, South Dakota, when he met a well-dressed fellow walking with a limp. The fellow said he was John Hurley from Philadelphia and he wanted to work his way up to Deadwood with Murphy's freight wagons. Murphy gave "Hurley" a job herding the cavyard at the rear of the wagons and loaned him a horse.

Upon arriving in the Black Hills, Johnny started prospecting for gold along Castle Creek. That summer, a band of Sioux stole his horses, so Johnny borrowed a horse from a friend and rode over to the Red Cloud Agency. There, he killed the man guarding the corral and then stole about 300 Indian horses. He spent the rest of the summer playing his old Texas game of being raided by Indians and then conducting his own raids against their herds. At the end of summer, he sold the horses he had left and gave up prospecting.

Next, he tried his hand as a bookkeeper for Homestake Gold Mine in Lead. This legal employment continued until he was recognized by a man from Texas who claimed "Hurley" was actually a horse thief named Lame Johnny. Seems that Johnny may have stolen horses from more than just Indians while he was in Texas.

Johnny promptly quit the mine and returned to his old ways of acquiring horse flesh., but it wasn't long before he embarked on a new occupation. On the west side of the Black Hills was a trail that ran from Deadwood south to Custer and then over to Cheyenne. Every month, the Homestake Mine sent a bullion coach down that trail with a shipment of gold. Johnny soon got accused of several stage holdups. Unfortunately for him, one of his victims recognized him and spread the word after Johnny stopped a Buffalo Gap to Rapid City stage on the east side of the Hills.

Thinking it might be best to revert to his horse stealing business for a while, Johnny headed down to Pine Ridge to acquire some Indian horses. His luck went against him when a lawman got word of his whereabouts and arrested him for horse stealing. Soon finding out that Johnny was also wanted for robbing and stealing a mail pouch from a stage coach, the lawman took him down to Chadron, Nebraska, and put him on the Sydney to Deadwood coach to go to court. To ensure his safe arrival, Johnny was shackled and handcuffed. Then a blacksmith attached an anklet made out of iron. A chain ran from the anklet on one end and on the other end it was riveted to a metal plate fixed to the floor of the coach.

As further measure, Boone May and Frank Smith rode on the coach as prisoner escorts, while Jesse Brown trailed at a distance on horseback. About eight miles north of Buffalo Gap where Highway 79 now crosses Lame Johnny Creek, a bunch of masked vigilantes, as the story was later told, rode up from the south, stopped the coach and pried the metal plate off the coach floor. They then shot Johnny and hung him from a nearby elm tree. Ironically, this spot was not far from where he'd robbed another stagecoach earlier in his career.

Allegedly, neither Boone nor Smith were able to protect their prisoner. And when Brown tried to ride up to the coach, he was supposedly warned off by a voice in the bushes along the creek.

When Pete Osland's bull train came up the trail the next morning, Johnny was still swinging from the elm tree. They cut his body down, buried it and placed a marker.

Rumors soon spread that a cowboy had cut off Lame Johnny's head and sold it to a museum back east. To find out for sure, Ephrien Dean, W.H. Sewright and others went to the site and dug up the grave. Johnny's body was still in the shackles and chains, but his head was missing. They removed the shackles and boots, then reburied the body. The boots, one of which had a raised heel to accommodate Johnny's injured foot, were later displayed in Wood's store in Buffalo Gap. A subsequent fire destroyed both Johnny's boots and the building. One of the shackles is at the State Historical Museum in Pierre (the state capitol) and the other is on display at the Frontier Museum in Custer where I saw it.

Johnny was gone, but no one knew how he and his gang could disappear so easily into the Hills after a robbery. Their trail always seemed to disappear in the area of King's Ridge.

Then in 1919, according to Mrs. Halstead, she and her husband filed a homestead claim on King's Ridge. Their land lay between Custer and Buffalo Gap near Lame Johnny Creek. On the western portion of the land set a high rim rock and a box canyon with no visible way down. While searching for a missing steer one fall, her husband followed tracks in the snow to the rim rock. From there, he could see the steer moving around on the canyon floor. Where the steer's tracks disappeared up top, her husband found three large rocks forming a gateway to a hidden trail going down.

On the canyon floor were two large caves that couldn't be seen from the top. The larger cave looked to have been a corral large enough for about 25-30 horses. The smaller cave contained rotted ropes, rusty cans, whiskey bottles and rotted bedding. Black soot from an old fireplace covered the walls of this cave. All was undisturbed as if the owners had left, but somehow hadn't made it back.

Not long after, Orval Halstead and her family moved away. They never told anyone about the caves until she told her story to the Eastern Custer County Historical Society in the late 1960's


Historical facts taken from Our Yesterdays, published by the Eastern Custer County Historical Society which collected written copies of oral stories from many of the early pioneers in that area and compiled them into a book. Other information was acquired from displays at the Frontier Museum in Custer.

30 October 2014

Still More Fun With Music and Writing!

Taking a break from discussing the intersection of history and mystery to swoop back in one big elliptical arc to another of the tropes I mine for content for this site. Another intersection. This one the place where auditory input stimulates manuscriptive creativity.

Which is to say, "Word-count springing from music."

As I've written here, I struggle with tinnitus, even more so since my son (he's 2 1/2) found a
particular frequency of shriek guaranteed to instantaneously ratchet up my tinnitus like being plucked suddenly from the serenity of a peaceful mountain meadow and unceremoniously dropped into the middle of a Who concert circa 1978 (for an idea of what that sounds like, click here). Before my son was born I could go for long periods ignoring my tinnitus. Not so much anymore.

Come on, you just KNOW this shit is loud.

Don't get me wrong. I yield to no one in my admiration for the particular brand of aural havoc Townshend, Moon, Entwistle and Daltrey could wreak.

It's just not an easy soundtrack for me to work to.

And while this link to ambient engine noise in a 24 hour loop from Star Trek the Next Generation definitely masks my tinnitus and allows me to concentrate while writing, I find I sometimes want to have music in the background, "ambient," if you will.

And that's what today's post here at Sleuthsayers is about: an update on what i'm listening to while working, and additionally, trying to poke a hole in the unfair characterization of ambient music as somehow "boring."

My most frequent "ambient" listens these days are:

"Moonwater" by Rudy Adrian, a New Zealander who does wonderful stuff. Give it a listen here.

And then there's the epic stuff of Patrick O'Hearn. A Portland, Oregon native, this guy was something of a musical prodigy, playing bass for such jazz guys as Joe Henderson before he was out of his teens, matriculating to playing for Frank Zappa in the late '70s and early '80s, going from there to a gig playing synthesizers with Terry Bozio in a band that could have only found an audience during the 1980s, Missing Persons, and on to a prolific solo career doing mostly, you guessed it: ambient music. I've included the album cover from his masterpiece, "So Flows the Current" (2001), but I find all of his canon incredibly listenable, especially while I'm writing.

Dear GOD, why???
Lastly, there's musical polymath Brian Eno, who pioneered the notion of "ambient music" after leaving Roxy Music back in the 1970s. In so doing Eno was simply applying an electronic component to composer Erik Satie's earlier idea of background music played live by musicians, which Satie called "furniture music."

I've listened to a fair amount of Eno's stuff, and one of his earliest, "Music for Airports" (1978). is one of my favorites. And his latest, "Lux" (2014), is really great. In fact, his stuff is always interesting, whether or not you actually like it.

And that brings me to my second point: writing is an art form. So is music.  These sorts of things in the best of times, feed off of each other. This is how musical pieces such as Mussorgsky's terrific "Pictures at an Exhibition", can be inspired by another form of art (in this case, the work of Mussorgsky's recently deceased friend, the artist Viktor Hartmann).

And so for my next trick, I'll continue this train of thought next time with the work of several artists whose new stuff in 2014 has helped inform my writing.

See you in two weeks!

That's better, Brian! Ladies and Gentlemen, Brian Eno, circa 2014, (apparently) all grown up!

29 October 2014

Seventeen minutes

by Robert Lopresti

A few nights ago I was having a typically pointless dream -- something about listening to the Star Spangled Banner at a golf tournament, if you must know -- when suddenly things shifted and I had a story idea.  I mean I dreamed I had one, but also I really did.  And then the alarm went off.

I'm sure you have had the experience of percolating a brilliant idea in your sleep, only to see it vanish when you wake.  You may have also had that experience's more humbling twin: remembering the dazzling insight and realizing it was nothing of the kind.  One night in college I scrambled for a notebook at 3 AM and write down my lightbulb flash.  In the morning I found that notebook page and read, quote:

           A warehouse.

So far, I have not found a way to monetize that flash of genius.

But getting back to my recent experience, when the alarm went off I was still in possession of the story idea, and, to repeat, it really was a story idea.  Which meant that the clock was ticking.

My memory is that R. Buckminster Fuller said: From the moment you have an idea you have seventeen minutes to do something with it.  If not, you lose it. I can't find those words on the Internet, so maybe I have it garbled, but I find it good advice anyway.

Write it down.  Hum it.  Tie a string around your finger.  Do something physical to get that elusive thought into a second part of your brain.  Seventeen minutes.  The clock is ticking.

My father, by the way, had his own way of dealing with this.  When he was at work and needed to remember something he would tear off a sliver of paper and put it in his shirt pocket.  When he got home he would find the scrap and remember why he had put it there.  I know that if I tried that I wouldn't even remember that there had been a reason.  "What the hell is this here for?" I would say before carefully dropping the reminder into the recycling bin.

And speaking of remembering things, we were talking about my recent morning.  It would have been great if I could have turned on a light and written down my idea immediately, but my wife, long-suffering as she, would not have been pleased to have her last half-hour of sleep interrupted.  Besides, my audience was waiting for me.

You see, we have cats.  Six thousand of them.

All right, really there are just four.  I like to say that we have two pet cats and each of them has one pet cat.  Share the guilt.

But my first duty when I stagger out of bed is to fill two water bowls, one dry food bowl, and three wet food plates, scattered on two floors.

All the time I was opening cans and bags I was trying to keep my story idea front and center in my skull (fortunately feeding the beasts doesn't require a lot of intellectual activity).

When all the critters were temporarily sated I was at last able to sit down with a pen and notebook and write down what i had: the title, the premise and the last sentence.  Now all I need to do is grow a plot around those three points.  It may happen; it may not.  But by God, I didn't lose this one. 

Have any stories about saving/losing ideas, especially in the early hours?  Put 'em in the comments.

Oh, from top to bottom: Jaffa with friend, Blackie, Chloe, and Charlie.

28 October 2014

Why do you write Crime Fiction?

Friday afternoons drag. If you work in an office, it can feel like the devil has planted one of his hooves down on the minute hand of the clock, slowing down time to the point where it starts to hurt. The happiness you felt earlier in the week has gone, the bright colors of life have faded, and all that remains is a seemingly endless, black and white, nothingness. Punctuated by the random antics of work colleagues, who are even more insane than you are (miniature remote-controlled helicopter racing, anyone?). Friday afternoons are a good time to start thinking about the next SleuthSayers article.

And then Friend K asks: Why do you write crime fiction? This is not a question I've been asked often; in fact, I can recall only one other instance. And I didn't really know how to answer it then, either. The short answer is: That's the way I evolved.

First of all, I actually think of myself as a mystery writer, not specifically a writer of crime fiction. I like mysteries, and at the heart of every story I've written you'll find one. It's a fundamental "human thing" to look for meaning in things we don't understand, to want to bring order to the chaos of life. Who, as a kid (and I mean everyone who's ever lived), hasn't looked to the stars at night and wondered what's out there? My foremost pleasure in writing a story is engaging the reader in a mystery; some kind of problem or enigma that needs/demands to be unraveled and solved. Seeking resolution is what makes readers keep turning the pages. I know it's why I do.
Danger! Conflict ahead! 
It's no surprise, then, that I grew up watching dozens of TV shows and movies about detectives and police officers. The mystery of who did it, how they did it, or why they did it, is central to any story in this arena; it's their raison d'ĂȘtre. I also grew up loving science fiction, because in Sci-Fi, the mystery can be as big as the universe. In fact, my favorite TV show of all is The Twilight Zone.

The thing I like about the Twilight Zone is that no matter how "out there" the stories were, they were mostly stories about real people. Rod Serling (the show's creator and principal writer) even said so. Setting stories in the "twilight zone" enabled him to explore almost anything about the human condition, that placed in a "realistic" or contemporary setting, he would never have gotten past the network censors or advertisers.

I don't write a lot of science fiction because I mostly prefer realistic settings and situations. I'm more interested in the girl hiding her dead boyfriend's body after she strangles him, rather than the girl who has three eyes and a luminous tail.

So, mysteries and stories about real people.
Picture a classroom in a suburban high school. The building is barely three years old and everything still has the feeling of the new and the modern about it: spacious, large windows, well lit. Teacher H is standing at the front of the room. She's middle-aged, has dark hair, glasses, and curious sense of humor. She's written "What makes a story work?" on the blackboard. It's English class, the last class before lunchtime on a Friday. The class is filled with a bunch of tired students, daydreaming about the weekend, their sandwiches, or the cute boy or girl seated in front of them.

This was a question that caught my attention and woke me up. And no one had an answer. No one put up his or her hand. No one had a clue, not even Student D, the cute girl who sat in front of me, in the front row -- the class Hermione, who usually had an answer for everything. In fact, she turned around to see if anyone else was putting up his/her hand. We traded vacant shrugs.

"Anyone?" Teacher H asked.


She defined story: The plot, or everything that happens in a book, or a movie, or a TV show.

Teacher H, by the way, was the teacher who entered class one morning and announced: "The king is dead". I was proud that I was the only one in the room who knew what she was talking about. It was the day Alfred Hitchcock died.

She wrote the answer on the blackboard. "Conflict". She explained. Stories work when people are in conflict with someone, something, or themselves. What makes a story work is conflict. She cited three examples from our reading that year:

  • Romeo and Juliet's happiness in their love is prevented by the conflict between their two families.
  • The conflict in The Importance of Being Earnest is the misunderstanding (lies and confusions) that exist between most of the characters.
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus' decision to defend a man he believes to be innocent in a rape trial threatens his family's safety.

Teacher H summed it up: Conflict is a problem to be resolved. The conflict and its resolution ARE the story. A story about a man who wakes up on a nice sunny day, goes out and buys groceries, and then comes home again, is not going to be very interesting or memorable. Without conflict, there's nothing to be engaged with.

You don't forget teachers like that.

So, mysteries, realistic people in realistic situations, and conflict -- the evolution of my writing gained mass around the nucleus of these three core components.

There are, of course, degrees of conflict. A misunderstanding where a guy asks a girl on a casual date and she misinterprets his intentions is at one end of the conflict scale. A man murdering another man because he stole his girlfriend is at the other. The scale itself is one of life endangerment -- the higher the risk, the more extreme the conflict.
As a writer, I tend to lurk around the extreme end of the scale. Heightened conflict engages the reader (and me). I simply find it more interesting to write about people in deeply dramatic situations -- more often than not, that involves some kind of crime. Had I not been so inclined, I might have become a romance writer, or a writer of literary fiction.

I don't know if my scale of conflict (illustration above) actually holds any water, I only just made it up (on the day before you read this) so I haven't had time to really think about it. Feel free to shoot it full of holes.

Anyway, that's why I write crime fiction.

Be seeing you!


27 October 2014

An Honest Rejection Letter

Carla Damron
A Caleb Knowles Mystery
SleuthSayer readers and writers, please allow me to introduce a superb South Carolina mystery writer– Carla Damron. I've known Carla since we met at the SC Book Festival years ago, and our paths have crossed numerous times since then. Damron blogs on Writers Who Kill and in September she posted about rejection– not the usual "oh, woe is me, I got another one," but a piece she called "An Honest Rejection Letter." I thought those of you who have ever received a rejection (and I'm told that even the most successful writers have been on the receiving end of those little letters that tear our hearts out) would enjoy reading her blog. I'm going to share it with you, but, first, here's a little more about Carla.

Described as a "writer of social issues mysteries," Carla is a licensed clinical social worker and, like me, she's a true southerner born and raised in South Carolina. Her counselor experiences resonate in her three mystery novels: Keeping Silent (2001, mass market 2002), Spider Blue, (2005 trade paper 2006) and Death in Zooville (2010).

Caleb Knowles, a social worker who was described in a Charlotte Observer review as "a social worker with a delightfully dry sense of humor" is the protagonist in these first three novels. In Death in Zooville, Caleb and his deaf brother Sam become entangled in the world of poverty, addiction, and homelessness.

Some SSers may have met Carla Damron as she has been a featured speaker and panel member at many writers' conferences and will be at Murder in the Magic City, Birmingham, Alabama, in February, 2015. For more about her, check out her webpage www.carladamron.com

I am just back from a wonderful writing retreat among some very creative women. Part of our weekend included writing exercises. The following is one I completed—a story in a letter. Sort of. My fellow wild women writers suggested I share it, so here goes!
Dear Author,

Thank you for submitting your novel, A Long Road to Nowhere, to Acme Publishing. Unfortunately we do not feel it is a good fit for our company. It may have been a good fit, had I read it before lunch, and if lunch hadn't included two glasses of a very nice chardonnay.

Or maybe it would have fit if I hadn’t just read five chapters of someone’s else’s work, an Apocalyptic YA novel about transgendered vampires, that had an opening which I loved, but completely fell apart at chapter two. (Seriously? A transgendered vampire would not convert to Buddhism.)

And, you may not want to hear that we just accepted someone else’s work, a coming of age graphic novel, reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, except that it’s set on planet Zargon and the protagonist has tentacled arms and drives a moon-ship. Graphic novels are all the rage this week.

And perhaps your work would have fit with Acme Publishing, if my boss, the assistant acquisitions editor, hadn't just handed me the novella written by our editor-in-chief’s thirteen-year-old niece, with orders that I find something in it that’s salvageable. “She did a nice job with her margins” was not, apparently, strong enough praise.

Your manuscript aside, I found your query letter striking. Interesting that you mentioned sending it to forty other publishing companies. Were we supposed to be flattered to be number forty-one? And, while I’m very glad that your mother loved the work and your writer’s group thinks it’s as good or better than Joyce Carol Oates, these opinions are likely biased. (My mother loved my high school performance of Anne Frank but you don’t see me on Broadway, do you?)

The inclusion of a bottle of scotch with your manuscript was a nice addition. Perhaps it would have scored more points with me if the editorial committee hadn’t snagged it before I saw the label. They’re in the board room right now singing Abba tunes.

As you know, author, the selection process is a subjective one, and you may find another publishing house that is eager to accept your work.

Best wishes,
Intern to the assistant acquisitions editor

PS. What's the most interesting or fun or depressing rejection you've ever received?
This has nothing to do with today's topic.  Melodie and Eve
wanted to see me in my clown costume.  Here it is.  I'm second
from left (as though you couldn't tell!) Hate I can't find a full-
length picture because my hot pink and purple cowboy boots
were magnificent both in Nashville and as a clown.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you!

26 October 2014

Not John Cheever’s Fault But Mine

         I’ve been alternating between reading stories in the anthologies The Dead Witness and Murder & Other Acts of Literature in my ongoing attempt to discern the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. My post in August was from The Dead Witness.
         For this post, I read "Montraldo" by John Cheever (1912-1982) in Murder & Other Acts of Literature. I’ve read only one story by Cheever and that was in college. I don’t remember the story. What I remember is it didn’t invite me to read more of his stories. I decided, in choosing “Montraldo,” to give him another chance to impress me.
         The nameless narrator opens the story with the statement, “The first time I robbed Tiffany's, it was raining.” He goes on to describe how he did it. After his explanation, I was expecting him to rob the store again and maybe dodge the cops or pull some other jobs. I was disappointed.
         He uses the money from fencing the jewelry to travel to Montraldo in Italy. Instead of staying in one of the two luxurious hotels, he rents a room in a villa that is in poor condition– no running water and no toilet– because he likes the view and is curious "about the eccentric old spinster and her cranky servant." The two argue constantly.
         The servant, Assunta, insults the old woman (not named), calling her “Witch! Frog! Pig!” The old woman replies calling the servant, “the light of my life.” As the old woman lay dying after a fall, at her request, the narrator gets the priest.  
         About a third of the way through the story, I began to suspect what the surprise ending would be. When it came, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I thought, “John, my man, I’m impressed.” Cheever didn’t help with my attempt to discern the difference between genre and literary fiction. Only one crime, the robber, is committed and, although the old woman dies, whether it was murder or an accident is ambiguous. Maybe one difference between literary and genre fiction is a tendency toward ambiguity in literary stories, while genre stories tend to be straight-forward.
         I can't judge Cheever based on only two stories, one of which I don't remember. “Montradla,” however, is one of those stories that I feel I would not have missed anything if I had not read it. Although I enjoyed “Montradla,” it didn’t invite me to read more of Cheever. That he is not one of my favorite authors is my fault not his. But I like what he said about "car thieves and muggers."

25 October 2014

The HIGHS and Lows of being an Author

(This was the second half of my Mattress of Ceremonies (MC) address at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference Gala in Toronto this June.  Which was a blast and a half.  I even have a photo of me giving this address.  It actually looks like me, which will be explained below. The Spanish Flamenco outfit cannot be explained.)

We all know the highs.  Those delirious times when you win awards and/or get a royalty cheque that takes you and your family to Europe rather than McDonalds.

I’ve had a few highs this year, winning the Derringer Award and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada.  And I’m exceedingly grateful for them.

Because - thing is - authors get a lot of lows.  It's not just the bad reviews and rejection slips.  For some reason, most of my lows seem to cluster around that scariest of all activities: the book signing.

Some people think the worst thing that can happen is nobody shows up.  Or when you’re on a panel of 4 authors, and only three people show up.

But that’s not the worst.

1.     Worse is when five people show up for your reading.  And they’re all pushing walkers. And half way through, when you’re right in the middle of reading a compelling scene, one of them interrupts, shouting, “When does the movie start?”

Sometimes, even large crowds don’t help.

2.     I did an event this year with two hundred people in the audience.  I was doing some of my standup schtick, and it went over really well.  Lots of applause, and I was really pumped.  I mean, two hundred people were applauding me and my books!  A bunch of hands shot up for questions.  I picked the first one and a sweet young thing popped up from her seat and asked in a voice filled with awe, “Do you actually know Linwood Barclay?”

3.    Another ego-crusher:  I was reading in front of another large crowd last year.  Same great attention, lots of applause.  I was revved.  Only one hand up this time, and she said, in a clearly disappointed voice:

“You don’t look anything like your protagonist.”

So I said, “Sweetheart, not only that, I don’t look anything like my author photo.”

4.     One of the best things about being a writer is getting together with other writers to whine about the industry.  I was at The Drake in Toronto this year with a bunch of other Canadian crime writers, Howard Shrier, Robbie Rotenberg, Dorothy McIntosh, Rob Brunet… who am I missing?

We were whooping it up in the bar, moaning about the book trade.  Someone bought a round.  And another.  And then I bought a round.  And soon, it became necessary to offload some of the product, so I went looking for a place to piddle.  You have to go upstairs in the Drake to find washrooms, so I gamely toddled up the stairs, realizing that I couldn’t actually see the steps.  I was probably not at my best. 

I made it to the landing at the top and scanned a door in front of me.  It had a big “W” on it. That seemed sort of familiar, but fuzzy, you know?  Then I saw the door to my left.  It had an “M” on it.  So I thought, ‘M for Melodie!’ and walked right in.

Howard, I think you had probably gone by then, but the guy at the urinal asked for my number.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books, like The Artful Goddaughter. You should probably buy it because she, like, writes about the mob.

24 October 2014

Driving a Boat into a Helicopter

Or:   Of Rubber Ducks, Double Ducks and Duck Recovery Ops

DUKW ("Duck")  Not this duck!
I've covered some aerial infiltration and exfiltration methods for land-based operations in the past two posts.  So, today, I thought we'd take a quick gander at some aerial INFIL/EXFIL ops that include water as a medium.

Zodiac Rubber Assault Boat with outboard motor.
Note the red fuel bladder. Everything on our boats
was black.          Photo courtesy: 
Kitairu Suppliers

I spent quite a bit of time on water operations teams, so I have quite a bit of experience with what the army calls Rubber Ducks, Double Ducks and Duck Recovery.

Now some of you may have seen the word Duck and thought of the vehicle in the photo at the top of the page: the GM-produced DUKW (pronounced "Duck") used by the US military during WWII. However, I'm writing about a different type of duck op.

The Rubber Duck

The Rubber Duck is an operation that parachutes team members onto a body of water (usually a sea, near a coastline) with a Zodiac Rubber Assault Boat.

Stack of standard pallets.  These may be
locked into the aircraft floor.
Since the pallet is going to be lost,
cheaper pallets --like this -- tend to
be used for ducks and double ducks.
It works like this: Team members strap a Zodiac to a pallet, which can be locked down on the aircraft floor.

The outboard motor is removed, and placed inside the boat, atop several layers of "crush material."

This crush material is usually composed of thick cardboard honeycomb, which is designed to expend the energy of airborne impact as it (the cardboard) collapses.  Thus, critical and sometimes fragile components of an operation (such as outboard engines for boats) are hopefully saved, arriving in usable condition after being tossed out the back of a plane moving at 125 knots, 1250 feet above the ocean.

How you push a pallet. (Zodiac pallet is shorter.)
One school of thought holds that it's okay to strap rucksacks down in the boat.  However, it's been my experience that this is a good way to lose equipment.  Consequently, my team nearly always jumped while wearing our rucks, loading them into the boat once we hit the water.

Once the boat is palletized, the team loads a C-130, C-141 or other similar aircraft with it.  And, once over the drop zone, they assist the aircraft Load Master in pushing the palletized Zodiac out the back ramp.
Don't think the load master is a coward, just because he's
strapped into the aircraft.

As the Zodiac's parachute deploys, the team chases the boat out the door, parachuting into the ocean behind it.  (Or, in front of it, depending on how you view things.)

This photo shows a different type of boat being parachuted.  However, it's probably about the same dimensions as a "Double Duck" which I'll get to in a minute.

If this were an SF Duck op, the team would be lined up on the right side of the ramp, waiting to run off.

After hitting the water, the team ditches parachutes, dons fins (and sometimes mask and snorkel) and swims to the boat.  This is why team members RUN off the ramp behind the boat: nobody wants to swim a mile and a half to reach the darn thing -- particularly in open ocean.

When preparing to jump, team members hold the fins together, usually under the left arm.  The fins are held firmly in the left hand (which also grasps the left side of the reserve chute in a standard jump), with the ankle straps wrapped around the left wrist.  The fins are also often "dummy corded" (tied) to the jumper's equipment.

Mask and snorkel may be carried in buttoned pockets, or lashed firmly to gear, or taped down with "100-mile-an-hour tape" (military duct tape, which is Olive Drab on the outside, instead of gray). Rifles are loaded with one magazine, then wrapped in two plastic garbage bags (see-through kind), leaving some extra air inside to provide assistance in firing from the bag, if necessary.  Weapons are slung upside down and dummy corded to the jumper.  Sidearms are placed in large plastic baggies, then holstered securely. [Some teams like to strap weapons and load-bearing vests (LBE) to the rucksacks, but I always worry about losing my ruck.  Hence I tended to wear my LBE and weapon.  After all, my LBE had canteens of fresh water, pen flares, and other important survival equipment.]

Our local scuba team liked to jump wearing their gear over T-shirts and UDT shorts, or else in wet suits. Most of the time, however, my team jumped in full uniforms, knowing we'd need to wear them when we hit shore. (Conducting a surprise fire-fight in shorts and a T-shirt would not be fun imho.  The SCUBA Team, of course, expected to wear SCUBA gear into the shore landing, so they looked at things differently, expecting to change into uniforms after landing.)

Rucksacks hang off the jumpers' fronts, clipped on with two clips, just below the reserve parachutes. Each jumper carries a 20 to 30 foot length of 1-inch nylon tubing (or a rope) snap-linked to his equipment harness.  The other end is snap-linked to the frame of his rucksack, in which all equipment has been sealed in large plastic trash bags with most of the air removed.  The nylon tubing or rope is S-coiled into a cargo pocket on the jumper's hip, or into a side pocket on the ruck, for ease of deployment when needed.

On the way down, jumpers try to "slip" their parachute, or drive their "steerable canopy" parachute, in the direction of the boat, to cut down on how much time it takes to put the boat into action and move out.

Upon hitting the water, jumpers remove their parachute harnesses, letting the chutes sink.  They swim a short distance away to avoid becoming entangled in parachute lines as this happens.  Then, they get their fins loose and put them on.  Fins NEVER go on bare feet.  (I had scars for over ten years, because I repeatedly swam with fins on bare feet in pre-scuba school, because booties were unavailable to me.)

Jungle Boots
Dive Booties
Fins may be worn over booties, or military boots.  However, standard combat boots are designed to prevent excessive ankle movement and, in my experience, consequently inhibit efficient swimming with fins.  Wearing booties tends to solve this problem, but booties provide limited foot protection when landing on coral, or when conducting initial patrols inland to secure the beach.  I have found that regular issue jungle boots tend to provide all the ankle movement I need for swimming with fins on, and they permit me to cross beach, hinterland, or even coral with no problems.  Just be sure to wear socks!

After donning fins, etc. the swimmer (who used to be a "jumper" but it no longer jumping -- that part's over) pays out the nylon tubing or rope, that's S-rolled in one pocket, and starts swimming for the boat, towing his rucksack behind.  If properly prepared, the air trapped in the trash bag, inside the ruck, will provide slight positive buoyancy, keeping it barely afloat.

Upon reaching the boat, team members unstrap the boat from the pallet and let the pallet sink.  They then remove the snap-link that holds the nylon tubing, from their gear, and clip their ruck rope or nylon tube to the boat. After the ruck is secured, and still floating, they climb aboard and remove the parachutes, letting them sink.  After this, the motor is cut loose and fastened to the transom -- the (about two inches thick) wooden board that makes up the boat's stern.

This boat design is different,
but you can see the engine plate quite well.
The transom has a metal plate on it, called an engine plate, because this is where you fasten the engine.  The outboard is held by what are essentially two permanently installed, large C-clamps, which you screw tight to the engine plate on the transom.  It usually takes two guys to do this, if you don't want to lose the engine overboard in high seas.  And, engines are heavy, made of metal, and sink fast!  So, you have to be careful not to drop it, or all those folks who USED to be your friends, are going to be helping you paddle miles into shore. (Some far-thinking team members dummy cord the engine to the boat, until everything is clamped firmly, just for this reason!  It's still a pain to haul the engine back up, and get it going, but it sure beats the alternative.)

The fuel bladder is then hooked up, using the clip valve on the end of the long, thin rubber tube that connects the bladder to the engine.  If you're smart, you lash down the bladder so you won't lose it in high seas.  Rucksacks are pulled in and loaded aboard, and everyone gets situated.  Then the engine is fired up -- and you're off!

All of this stuff is best conducted at night, of course, to prevent prying eyes from watching your movements -- which throws a very special monkey wrench into everything: including finding the boat and getting it ready to go.

For this reason, red chemical lights are usually attached to the boat when it is palletized, and "cracked" (turned on) just before pushing it out the door.  The first person to find the boat usually climbs on top and waves a red chem light as high as he can, to assist others in finding the boat at night, in high seas.  Red is chosen because this color is a bit tougher to see.  Make of this what you choose.

Once the boat is "up" and everyone is situated, the coxswain drives the boat across the ocean, aiming to land at a desired location.  Navigation may be based on lights seen ashore, GPS equipment, magnetic compass and chart references, nautical navigation tools (such as tide charts and whiz wheels), or a combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

Scout-swimmers seldom wear rucks.
While, technically, you can take an M-16
and fire it almost as soon as you take it out
of the water, you may have problems if
water is still in the barrel.  This is why we
trash-bagged our weapons, leaving room
for air and expended rounds in the bags.
At a few hundred meters from shore, two scout-swimmers are put into the water.  These are usually the team's best swimmers, and they'll swim into the landing site, ensure no enemy are present, then conduct a reconnaissance before taking up security positions over-watching each end of the beachhead, and signalling the boat to come in (usually by flashing a pre-arranged Morse letter signal, using a red-lens flashlight).

How the boats come in: HOT!
Once the signal is received, the coxswain cranks the throttle and drives the boat hell-for-leather into the beach, trying to make it climb the sand as high as possible.  Coral is highly destructive to a rubber boat, so it is avoided if possible.  If the boat must land on coral, this will be made clear with a signal from the scout-swimmers, and the coxswain will slow as he approaches the beachhead to minimize damage.

After the boat is beached, the team will carry it inland, often deflate it, then try to hide it: burrying it, and/or camouflaging its location.  The boat location will be marked in the standard manner used to note cache sites.

Double Ducks

Double Ducks are run just like Rubber Ducks, but two boats are used.

The reason for this is simple: One Zodiac fits about half an A-Team, with their gear.  Any more, and it gets overloaded, which causes problems.  So, the team jumps in with two Zodiacs, instead of one.

When palletizing, the two Zodiacs are stacked on top of each other on the pallet.  Everything is strapped and lashed together, to form one cohesive package for the drop.  And, once everybody's in the water, the boats are pushed apart and each team works on its own boat, readying it for the run in.
A Double Duck makes landfall.

Duck Recovery

Duck Recovery Operations vary, depending on the vehicle being used to recover the boat(s) and/or swimmers.  And it's a place where the SF mantra of "That's wild, and undoubtedly quite dangerous, but we can do it," becomes something more like: "You've gotta be kidding me!"

I've spoken to SCUBA team guys who waxed long about the exciting experience of having a submarine surface with the conning tower just astern of the long ropes holding the team's two Zodiacs together.  The sub kept moving slowly forward as it surfaced.  When the conning tower caught up to the ropes, it caught them, and the two boats were swept back over the rear deck area of the sub.  As the sub came farther out of the water, team members used paddles to keep the boats from being swept over the side, and were later able to step from their boats onto the (relatively) dry deck, deflate their boats, and go below.

I've never done that one, but I have driven a Zodiac into a helicopter several times, and been on board Zodiacs driven into helicopters several more times.

(At left is the photo of a model of a CH-47 Chinook.  Though it's a model, I think it gives you the best look at the overall bird.)

The secret here is that the CH-47 Chinook helicopter does NOT float . . . but it does sink slowly.

Special Operations puts this fact to use, by letting a Chinook "land" in a body of fairly flat, calm water.  This doesn't work very well in open ocean, but can be done in inland waterways, on lakes, or in coves, etc. where the waves don't get too tall.

The pilot puts his rear ramp down, when landing, and keeps the rotors running (there are two rotors, fore and aft: see photo).  This provides lift, increasing the helicopter's "float" time.  Meanwhile, the team on the Zodiac drives as fast as they can get that little rubber boat to go -- right up the ramp and into the back.  The chopper's got about six inches to a foot of water in it, by this time, so the boat has water to run across as it comes in.  Just before entering the ramp area (Remember: the ramp is down, and lying under the water starting about five or six feet back from the open rear of the chopper!) the coxswain cuts the engine as his assistant unlocks the engine, permitting them to hinge it up and forward, lifting the prop out of the water.  The boat continues to coast, but team members rapidly grab the wide nylon webbing of the troop seats that have been folded up against the interior sides of the helicopter.  Team members continue to grasp this netting -- hanging on for dear life! -- as the pilot lifts off, moving forward, and all that water spills out, running in a river right out the back of the open ramp.  As the water runs out, the boat settles.  Eventually, the ramp is brought up and locked closed, at which point the team can let go and stand up, getting out of the boat.

At this point, the Zodiac may be deflated and the troop seats may be lowered so team members can sit in them for the flight back to wherever they're going (usually an intermediate staging area, where they leave the CH-47 and board a large jet transport like a C-141 to make the long flight home).

In my experience, however, since this recovery operation usually comes at the end of a long, exhausting deployment, team members often opt to keep the boat inflated, then flop in,on and around it to fall deeply asleep until the chopper lands.  If the Crew Chief, Pilot or Load Master decide to deflate the boat, however: it gets deflated.  Anyone who complains is usually invited to walk or swim home.

Oh, one other thought: this is also usually done at night.  And the coxswain is usually equipped with goggles to help him deal with the sea spray kicked up by the Chinook.  Unfortunately, not only is it dark.  Not only is the chopper marked with dim chem lights.  But, also: those goggles are usually pitted and scarred to near un-usability.  Consequently, finding that chopper can be tough.

Once, in training, it took me so long, as coxswain, that when we finally got to the penultimate moment, my Team Sergeant suddenly lunged back at me, knocking me to the floor of the boat, just as we shot under the open ramp of the rising chopper, gallons of water dumping on us and swamping the boat.  The Chinook pilot had decided he either had to fly, or sink!  So he chose to fly, of course.  I hadn't been able to see through the dark night, sea spray and awful goggles.  The pilot came back, though, and we did it again -- successfully this time.

That's it for now.  See you in two weeks!

23 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution - Part 2

by Eve Fisher

Where we left off two weeks ago, was with the collapse of old regime governments and the rickety nature of the moderate governments that take over.  That rickety nature is because, as I said last time,
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes (the radicals) because
  • the moderates must maintain government, want to maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it.
The Extremists 

Revolutions work in stages:  from moderates to extremists, until finally the lunatic extremists take over.  Now the lunatic extremists are always a minority, and such a tiny minority that everyone discounts them, because obviously they don't speak for the majority.  But the extremists are willing to do ANYTHING to get into power, including attending all those boring committee meetings that everyone else ignores, where they quickly become the secretaries, treasurers, and chairmen.  This means they run the bureaucracy of the revolution:  they control who gets elected, who gets jobs, who gets money.  And, as the extremists' candidates start winning elections, they change the voting rules - the electorate is shaved down, elections are rigged and eventually elections are eliminated, because the extremists have to stay in power in order to "maintain the revolution."

And then comes the Reign of Terror.  Ideological purity is made the touchstone of everything, which makes it increasingly dangerous to be different - and the lunatic extremists keep changing the goalposts, making ideological purity not just harder and harder to achieve, but impossible to achieve. Nobody is ever pure enough.  Let me repeat that point, and please remember it, because it's a dead giveaway, then and now and in future:  Nobody is ever pure enough for the extremists.

The Reign of Terror (and there always is one)

The Revolution has been very busy killing off its enemies:  the obvious Royalists, White Army, capitalists, bourgeois industrialists, or feudalists, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, Huguenots, and whatever other category they deem dangerous.  But now it starts eating its own.  The last thing to be in a revolution is one of the first revolutionaries, because you are going to get killed:  Danton is guillotined; Trotsky gets it in the head with an ice axe; Liu Shaoqi - former President of the People's Republic of China - dies naked and alone in a windowless cell.  Robespierre, Stalin, and Mao all killed almost everyone who used to be their comrades in arms, as well as thousands to millions of innocent citizens.

The other fun things about the Reign of Terror are:
  • Individual liberties are suppressed, if not made illegal, especially free speech and the right to dissent.  As I said earlier, elections are either obviously rigged or banned outright.  
    • NOTE:  This is actually not hypocrisy.  The extremists know that they have the true answer to how men should live, and so any opposition must be wiped out for the good of the country, perhaps even the good of humanity.  To oppose them is to oppose God (or whatever term the extremists use).  
  • Virtue is enforced.  They ban every vice, from gambling to drinking, whoring to theater, and a lot of stuff that just seems like it might be fun, like dancing or reading.  And it doesn't have anything to do with religion:  although some revolutions have been religious in basis (the English Civil Wars were quickly taken over by extreme Puritans, among others), even atheist revolutions (Mao's Cultural Revolution) are extremely ascetic.  
  • Robespierre guillotining the
    executioner after having
    guillotined everyone else in France
    • NOTE:  This is why George Orwell's Big Brother banned sex; as Julia says to Winston, "When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?" 
    • FURTHER NOTE:  Quite a few leaders of the extremists, like Robespierre and Thomas Paine, are Pure Young Men, which only increases the push for extreme virtue and terror, because nobody is ever pure enough for a Pure Young Man, who will, if pushed, kill maniacally in his cause.   For a definition of a Pure Young Man, see yours truly's article in SleuthSayers http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2014/06/emergency-pure-young-men.html.  For an example, watch the scene in "Lawrence of Arabia" where Peter O'Toole's Lawrence starts shooting everyone in sight, with great bloody joy.
  • Extraordinary courts and special revolutionary police are set up - no evidence needed, no lawyer provided, just a quick snatch off the streets, and a rubber-stamp of "guilty - condemned" for all who are unfortunate enough to be hauled before them. 
  • There are mass exiles, imprisonments, and executions.  Endless executions.  Sometimes it seems if the extremists want everyone dead.  Sometimes they do.
  • War is common, indeed necessary:  War is used to spread the gospel of revolution abroad and as a distraction from how bad things are at home under the extremists.  (Sometimes it's imaginary - North Korea's been battling the United States in its own mind for almost 70 years - but it's still effective.)  
The End of Extremism

Here comes the good news:  flesh and blood can only take so much, and eventually the extremists are ousted.  For one thing, the common man and woman just can't take being forced into early sainthood, and fear will not work forever, even if it seems like it.  Some, like Robespierre, call for one too many deaths and are executed themselves. Others, like Mao and Stalin, die of natural causes, and afterwards their supposed followers can't move fast enough to lighten things up.  In China, they arrested the Gang of Four, led by Mao's last wife, Jiang Qing, and blamed them - especially her - for everything; shortly thereafter, Deng Xiaping declared "To get rich is glorious!"

In France, once Robespierre was dead, people opened the bars, pulled out the wine, and women started dressing sexy again, which is how Josephine Beauharnais nabbed Napoleon.  It's a giddy time - everyone is free, free, free!

Madame Recamier, by David, bringing sexy back
Return of Absolutism

And then comes the Restoration.  Literally in England, with Charles II.  Brezhnev in Russia.  Calles in Mexico.  A brief empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and then the Bourbons returned.  (Talleyrand said of them, "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing," which is why the restored monarchy only lasted until 1848.)  The Chinese Communist Party clones, president after president.


And yet, something has changed.  Just as nobody survives a deadly disease without some change to their psyche, so no country survives a revolution without some changes to their society.  Not habits:  human habits are hard to change, or at least were before mass media required us all to mimic Hollywood images. But ideas did change, took root; civil rights were expanded; there was some redistribution of wealth and/or land.  In France, the Revolution left behind a secularization, universal education, the metric system of weights and measures, and governmental centralization that is still in place, and, thanks to the Napoleonic Empire, was spread all around Europe.  In both China and Russia, the peasants got land and permission to engage in some capitalistic behavior, in exchange for which the Party was allowed to stay in power.  What were once revolutionary symbols - the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseillaise, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - become the national liturgy.  And each revolution "proves" that revolution can work - if you just get it right, so maybe next time...

And the memory of the Great Revolution is enshrined, if not downright embalmed in holy incense, as a sacred time when people were unified and pure.  Or as a time of amazing excitement and brotherhood, such as never has been known since.  It is a Golden Age.  Except, of course, to the families of those who were killed.  But who's listening to them?  After all, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs" - that came out of the French Revolution, too.

22 October 2014

Dreadful - John Horne Burns

The big books that came out of the Second World War are THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and THE YOUNG LIONS. They were successful at the time, and they're still read, if not the Irwin Shaw so much, which is a shame.

My dad, though, who was himself a Navy vet - the North Atlantic, the Med, and later the Pacific - had a soft spot for John Horne Burns' THE GALLERY, which is a series of linked stories about Naples, under Allied occupation. It's fallen between the cracks, these days.

I discovered an odd, tangential connection of my own to Jack Burns, when I went to the Loomis boarding school, in the 1960's. He'd taught at Loomis, after the war, and then got mired in a scandal of his own making. THE GALLERY had been published in 1947, and got terrific reviews. Jack was on the cover of Saturday Review. A little full of himself - or past caring - he gave an interview to the Boston GLOBE where he waxed snide about Loomis' provincialism. It didn't sit well with the headmaster, the imperious Nathaniel Horton Batchelder, who called Jack on the carpet. Not long afterwards, Jack and Loomis parted ways.

The next novel he published was LUCIFER WITH A BOOK, a poisonous diatribe about a thinly-disguised New England prep school. You wouldn't find it in the Loomis library. And by the time I got there, Jack Burns was the name nobody spoke out loud. There was something else, too.

Jack was gay. He didn't come out of the closet until after he'd left, but it was pretty much an open secret with most of the Loomis faculty, if not the boys. This isn't what put him in Dutch with Batchelder, one of those muscular Christians whose world-view probably didn't admit of Jack's persuasions, but it was one last nail in his coffin.

One of those odd coincidences, another guy who was at Loomis, a few years after I was, is David Margolick, who got interested enough in the Jack Burns mystery to write a biography, DREADFUL. David and I wrote a couple of letters back and forth, it happens, but I couldn't shed much light on the contretemps, other than the enormous silence that descended whenever Jack's name came up. To me, the interesting thing is that David's curiosity was put in play by that very silence. In other words, banishing Jack from living memory only served to whet our appetites, the temptation in the forbidden. You might even find there's a metaphor, here. Jack Burns drawn to the flame.

He wasn't, by all reports, a very nice guy to be around, and he certainly didn't suffer fools gladly. What struck me, re-reading THE GALLERY again, is how chilly it is, even contemptuous. His sympathies aren't invested. You begin to feel sorry for the characters because he so obviously isn't, which is off-putting, as if they really aren't worth his time. I'm not suggesting in the least that this is homosexual self-loathing, but the distance he puts between you and the book creates a disturbance. You wonder why you should care. I don't think this is a conscious effect. I do think it betrays a deep, glacial reserve in Burns. He won't let himself show any weakness. He may have been like that in life, brittle and guarded, all too vulnerable.

He drank himself to death, in Florence, in 1953. He was thirty-six.