Showing posts with label R.T. Lawton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label R.T. Lawton. Show all posts

24 June 2018

Putting Up E-books

by R.T. Lawton


1st e-book, 2011
For those of you wondering about putting up e-books, it's easier now than it was a few years ago, but there's still a few things you might want to know if you're starting from scratch.  Roughly, there's two systems you can work in. (NOTE: The following is not intended to be an everything step-by-step guide.)

When you format for Kindle, your e-books are sold only on Amazon. When you format for Smashwords, they distribute your e-books in six different platforms to their respective sellers for the other e-readers out there. For instance, if a buyer desiring to purchase your story has a Nook, then that buyer acquires your e-book through Barnes & Noble. For an Apple, Kobo, etc., they have their own stores to carry your e-book which is distributed through the Smashwords' catalog. Fortunately for you, both formats can now use a Word document to turn your manuscript into an e-book.

2nd e-book, 2011
In 2011, when I put up my first four e-collections of short stories, it was best to do a nuclear option system of formatting, in which case the simple way was to use two computers. One computer used Word as you normally would. The other computer was used to strip out most of Word's formatting commands to put your manuscript in submission format. The problem being if you ever opened the submission manuscript on the normal computer, then the Word formatting commands automatically came back in again. Yeah, you could do it all on one computer, but it could be a headache. Nowadays, the process is easier.

3rd e-book, 2011
To publish for Kindle, go to https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200635650  and print out their 19 page how-to-do-it manual. Follow their steps and it's fairly easy. When your manuscript is ready, the manual will direct you to the proper place for uploading it into their system. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions during the uploading process. For instance, have a long and a short description of your book ready. Also have an idea of the keywords and categories you want to plug in for any search engine. Mystery and Fiction are givens, but is your book humorous, hard-boiled, cozy, young adult, etc.? Have a price in mind. More on price later. Have a cover. More on that later. And, have a lot of patience. It may take more than one attempt to get all the way through the process.

One decision you will have to make with Kindle is whether or not you want your e-book to be exclusive to Amazon/Kindle. If so, they offer some special programs and incentives to do so. However, that also means that your e-book cannot be distributed to other e-readers.

4th e-book, 2011
This brings us to Smashwords, which distributes to the other e-readers. They have somehow developed a software program that takes your Word manuscript in and turns it into several different formatted platforms. The original software was aptly named "The Meatgrinder."

Go to: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 and download their 62 page style guide for directions on formatting your manuscript and entering their publishing process. Be sure to set up the best formatted manuscript you can in order to get your e-book into their Premium Catalog for wider distribution. And again, be prepared to answer pretty much the same questions as required by Kindle during the process.

5th e-book, 2018
E-book Formatting: You can do your own formatting according to the respective guideline manuals, or you can hire out the work. If you hire out the formatting, consider it as fronting the money and hoping for enough return in sales to cover your financial investment. I'm not computer savvy, but I do have a retired Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I think I can figure out how to do that (in those days nuclear option) formatting thing." So, I let him. And now, he gets a percentage of my percentage.

Price: Once you enter a price for your e-book, the program usually tells you how much the author gets. Ninety-nine cents is usually the lowest price acceptable, although I have seen other prices listed as choices during the process. At ninety-nine cents, the author usually gets about 35% of the sale amount, whereas at $2.99 and up, the author usually gets about 70%. There is some small variation when your e-book is sold in foreign countries, although you are still paid in U.S. dollars. Which brings us to method of payment. Amazon/Kindle pays via EFT (electronic funds transfer), while Smaeshwords pays via PayPal. You will probably want to set up one method or the other or both (assuming you decide to publish with both companies).

6th e-book, 2018
Cover: If you are artistically inclined, you can make your own cover. If not, then you can find someone who is or hire someone to make you a book cover. Look at other authors' e-book covers to decide what you like and what you don't. Then, if you are hiring someone else to do the cover, decide how much you are willing to spend, in which case you are guessing whether or not your e-book sales will at least pay for the cost of the cover. In my case, my Huey pilot friend also has artistic ability, so he created the first six covers you see in this blog article. The first four were done in 2011 for those e-books. For the 5th and 6th covers, I wanted a different look, so we used personal photographs as artwork to make those covers.

Brian's cover

Two very professional covers I've been impressed with were commissioned by our own SleuthSayer author Brian Thornton for his "Suicide Blonde" and "Paper Son." Both stories originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as short stories, however, "Suicide Blonde" is now in the process of becoming a novella for an e-book and also as a print book. A contract has already been inked for future publication.

Brian's other cover
For any questions on how Brian had his covers made, contact him directly and he'll be glad to explain the process and who he went through to get those covers.


If you plan on putting up your own e-books or e-collections, let us know what you have in mind. Or, if you have already put them up, please share your experiences and any tips you might have to make the process go easy.


Thanks.

27 May 2018

I Didn't Plan for This

by R.T. Lawton

Memorial Day is right around the corner. A time for thinking about cemeteries and flags and flowers. A time to reflect on those who've gone before us and decide how we can best honor them. Possibly a good time to ponder over how we ourselves would like to be remembered.

Some honorees are traditional in their ceremonies or may establish their own traditions. Some of these approaches are just plain different.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849( was first buried in an unmarked, weed-covered grave over which the sexton later placed a small block of sandstone with the number 90 engraved into the stone. Later, a marble headstone was commissioned. Because of the immense weight of these memorials, the place where they were carved was next to the railway yards to facilitate easy transportation. Unfortunately, a train ran off the tracks and through the monument yard, destroying Poe's marble headstone before it could be moved for installation at his grave.

About 1949, and possibly earlier, on the anniversary of Poe's birth, an anonymous person would enter the Baltimore cemetery and leave a bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave. This tradition continued until the last official visit in 2009.

Marily Monroe's crypt
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), real name Norma Jean Baker, was interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery, crypt 24, in Los Angeles three days after she committed suicide. Her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, took care of the arrangements. He didn't want the funeral to become a Hollywood affair, so he tried to keep the ceremony private. However, in the years after Marilyn was interred there, it became a popular cemetery for celebrities. Hugh Hefner even bought the tomb next to Marilyn so he could rest eternally beside the first Playboy Playmate.

For three successive years, DiMaggio had red roses delivered to Marilyn's tomb. Over time, her stone became discolored from lipstick imprints of kisses from fans.

Al's grave in Mt. Carmel Cemetery
Photo by JOE M200
Alphonse Gabriel Capone (1899-1947), known as Al Capone, was originally buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Chicago, but after his headstone was vandalized a few times, he was relocated to Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. His original black headstone was left in Mt. Olivet as an attempt to fool sightseers and souvenir hunters as to his final resting place.

The large grey upright headstone in Mt. Carmel with the name Capone carved in it is for the Capone family. Al has his own small flat stone nearby. People still leave various objects on his grave.

Jesse James grave in Kearney, MO cemetery
Jesse Woodruff James (1847-1882) got shot in the back of the head in St. Joseph, Missouri and was originally buried on the family property. His body was later exhumed and subsequently planted in a cemetery in Kearney, Missouri. However, a man named J. Frank Dalton (1850-1951) and claiming to be Jesse Woodruff James, or Jesse passing himself off as J. Frank Dalton to avoid the law (as was claimed), got buried in Grandbury, Texas. To figure out which one was the real Jesse James, both bodies were exhumed and DNA analysis was performed. The body in the Kearney grave passed the James test, while the other corpse didn't live up to the required data. Seems that just because you're right though, doesn't mean you get to rest in peace.

1967 photo of the French graves taken from a Huey
by Jim Bracewell, 229th Avn Bn
After the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, French Mobile Group 100 abandoned Ankhe and retreated along Route 19 towards Pleiku in the highlands of French Indo-China. En route, they were ambushed several times by the Viet Minh and lost over half their strength. One of the first to die was a trooper who took a poisoned dart to the head from a Montagnard blowgun. Most of the French dead were buried in Mang Yang Pass on the north side of the highway. Allegedly, they were buried upright and facing west towards France. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Vietnamese Communists were said to have removed the white headstones from the site.

In a cemetery near the New Orleans French Quarter you can sometimes read a brief history or a comment about the occupant of certain graves. A headstone might label the resident as "the consort of" a particular person, or might state that the occupant died of a certain disease. Or, you might see three graves in a row and discover that the occupants had once been involved in a love triangle and eventually ended up in side-by-side tombs.

So, how do you plan to be remembered? Planned anything poignant to be engraved on your stone? Or even possibly safer, are your ashes hopefully taking a flier in some special place? Speaking of which, I had an ex-partner who asked a Sheriff's Deputy he played golf with to scatter his ashes on a certain golf course. A year after my ex-partner's death, the deputy was cleaning out his own closet and discovered he still had the ashes. So much for making plans.

At this point, please feel free to share any graveyard trivia you might have.

29 April 2018

Informants 201

by R.T. Lawton

Never completely trust an informant. Things go wrong.

If you can, verify everything an informant tells you before you act on the information. One, he may be in error. Two, he may be in error on purpose. In the first case, accidents do happen. Periodically, you will hear in the news about some police outfit hitting the wrong residence during a search warrant. If the police are really unlucky that day, someone dies or gets injured during the entry into that wrong address. True, the informant could have transposed a couple of numbers in the address, or maybe he got confused and mentioned the apartment on the wrong side of the hallway. It happens and the news media plays it up. But, the officer obtaining the search warrant should have done his homework better. He should have checked the names and the address to ensure a match.

In the second possibility, the informant may have an agenda you don't know about, in which case you'd best be very careful. And even when an informant and his information check out this time, you should stay aware for the future, because the future can quickly become flexible.

"Herbie" was a hard core street dude. he came over to our outfit as someone else's informant and anyone in the group could use him. One night, he introduced me undercover to a heroin dealer and I bought a spoon of smack. In those days, dealers would sometimes measure their coke and smack with a spoon from their silverware drawer. Depending upon its size, the drug weight could range from 1/6th of an ounce to 1/2 an ounce. Of course, while they're sitting on their front porch watching traffic and waiting for the next customer, they would get bored and start whetting the top edges of the spoon on their cement porch. As time went by, the volume measured became smaller, but the price always stayed the same. Anyway, by the time we arrested the dealer and his trial came up, Herbie had already been arrested for killing a guy and was facing the death sentence. When he found out we couldn't do anything for him on the death part, his story in court changed to one of entrapment. Now, according to Herbie, the man, not a dealer at all, was only handing over a package to me and was doing it for Herbie because Herbie allegedly owed me money and couldn't pay the debt. That was a fun trial, but as it turned out with Herbie, it was either help him or look out.

Informants also have a way of backsliding.

We had a white, 300 pound gang member for a C.I. who was really friendly and fun to be around. You couldn't help liking him. And, he was good at his job as an informant. He made informant buys for us, he introduced me to the bigger suppliers to make large buys, and he worked his way in so he could travel with dealers when they went to their suppliers to re-up their inventory. The guy was a pleasure to work with. And then we found that he was bringing back his own purchases of drugs when he went on these trips, drugs for sale on the local market. So much for trust and good times. In the end, he joined some of the people he'd made cases on who were by then lodged in the grey-bar hotel. Separate institutions of course.

Naturally, there's more than one form of betrayal.

My partner signed up an overweight Hispanic dude as a cooperating individual. His criminal occupation had been as a pharmacy burglar, but no one ever caught him at it. We ran him off and on for about three months, but somehow none of the deals he set up ever went down, so we cut him loose. Two years later, I walk into a different C.I.'s apartment to make a prearranged buy. Who's sitting in the living room with barbiturates (reds) for sale? Right. Our rather large Hispanic who indulged in pharmacy burglaries. He did not appear to recognize me, so with some apprehension on my part, wondering if the light bulb would suddenly come on, I made the buy. As soon  as I got to a radio, I called my partner, filled him in, and mentioned that the guy still had more drugs for sale. my partner met me in the hallway and I took him inside. I introduced my partner undercover to the dealer and my partner then made a buy of other barbiturates (yellows). At the time of trial, the dealer testified he was working for the FBI and was merely trying to find some criminals for them. Oddly enough, no FBI agents showed up to testify on his behalf. This was one of those situations where a bad guy had pretended to be a cooperating individual so he could scope out law enforcement agents and thus avoid them in his future criminal endeavors. Too bad his memory failed. However, had he possessed a firearm and remembered my partner or me, it could have gone badly for us.

I can tell you from several personal experiences, there's nothing like walking into a dealer's house or into a bar to do a deal and then finding a previous informant sitting there. You never really know what's going through his head. Has he gone back into the business? Is he part of this deal? Will he sit there and feign ignorance? Will he walk away? Will he give you up to protect himself? What is he doing here? That's when you split your mind, focus half on the dealer you're negotiating with and half on the potential danger of that previous informant. You just hope the deal goes down quietly and you can walk away without an incident, cuz if things go wrong and you're counting on surveillance to ride to the rescue, you don't have enough minutes on the clock. By the time they get inside, most everything that concerns you has probably already happened.

After enough years of working with various kinds of people, it can cause you to look at your fellow man and woman with a jaundiced eye, even when you're out in the general public. That's one reason why cops like to sit with their back to a wall when out in a public place. It gives you a chance to see what's coming at you, a chance you don't always get when working informants.

Bottom line, CYA as best you can. And, the next time you're sitting in a bar, picture yourself in one of these types of situations. How would you handle it?

In the meantime, ride easy, my friends.

25 March 2018

Down in Montego

by R.T. Lawton

When the cold, snowy winds of winter come blasting across the Front Range, thoughts of Jamaica bring soothing visions of warm, sandy beaches, cool tropical breezes, a refreshing plunge into clear Caribbean waters, and perchance a local rum drink in a tall glass to smooth out a lazy afternoon. And that's the way it's been on the tourist end of the island for many years. But, with the increasing droves of tourists arriving on the island, along came problems, lots of problems.

left side of Montego Bay
As more and more tourists flew into Montego Bay's airport and more cruise ships tied up to their wharf, Montego Bay in the 1980's emerged as the tourism capital of Jamaica. To provide service to this influx of people with money to spend, native islanders moved to the city, seeking jobs and housing. This sudden growth left the city without enough places for these new workers to live. With nowhere else to go, the new labor force gradually moved inland, where in the local lingo, they "captured" land and built on it. Roughly nineteen unplanned communities, without the infrastructure of proper roads, street lights, addresses or other amenities, cropped up above Montego Bay. Existing roads were dirt, buildings were hidden behind zinc fences, and with all the congestion, the local police didn't have the manpower to effectively patrol these unplanned communities. Theft of utilities, such as water and electricity became common practice. Criminals soon found this uncontrolled environment conducive to their illegal activities. Gangs took over and the crime rates soared.

Harbor at Montego Bay
In St. James Parish, where these informal communities sprouted up, the chief criminal organizations went by names such as One Order, in the Flanders area; Killer Bees, in Granville; Piranha, in Bottom Pens; and Tight Pants, in North Gully. (For a fearsome gang to be named Tight Pants, I don't know if that was a fashion statement or if someone had a sick sense of humor.) At that time, the most infamous gang, known as Stone Crusher, ruled in the Norwood community. From 2002 to 2010, the Stone Crusher gang was believed to be responsible for most of the over one hundred murders per year in St. James Parish, of which Montego Bay is the parish capital.

With money and power being the main motivating factors for organized criminals, the major schemes began. The guns for drug trade is alleged to have been thought up by a Jamaican and a Haitian while both were serving time in a Miami jail during 2001. The Jamaican sent drugs to Haiti and in return, the Haitian sent guns to Jamaica. In 2002, part of the first shipment of guns was alleged to be used in an eight-hour gun battle against the police in the Cantebury section of Montego Bay. Three of the alleged gunmen were killed and three policemen were wounded. The police subsequently seized several high-powered rifles and over a thousand rounds of ammunition. Joint operations by the U.S. and Jamaican authorities later resulted in the arrest of several prominent Montego Bay residents involved in the crime and corruption.

With local and international attention being focused on the drug trade, criminals started moving over to the emerging lotto scam. Con artists in Jamaica would dupe Americans into believing they had won the local lottery. All the "winner" had to do was send money to pay the "processing fees." This scheme brought in an estimated thirty million dollars during a six year period. Rival scammers soon got crosswise with each other and turned to corrupt policemen and the local gangs for protection. At this point, the Stone Crushers entered the lucrative protection and extortion rackets. Lotto scammers who didn't pay up were murdered.

Police corruption ran rampant. Two local policemen were alleged to work for the Stone Crusher gang as hitmen. Those people living in the unplanned communities became afraid to complain of crimes against them. They no longer trusted the police. Political leadership was ineffectual. Pastors of local churches began to preach for a return to moral values. A local newspaper, the Gleaner, started its own investigation into the problems. A monthly award of $100,00 was offered by the Police Commissioner to the police unit making the most arrests and gun and drug seizures. The bodies of gang leaders, hitmen and other gang members began to stack up during gun battles with the police. With heat on the lotto scammers coming from both sides of the law, many moved on to armed robberies, which put them in direct conflict with the police.

With this evolving of crime in Jamaica, the current tourist should not be surprised to find armed guards in front of jewelry stores, even in the tourist areas.

So, where does that leave the tourist who wishes a relaxing vacation in Jamaica? Fortunately, the majority of violence has been contained to the unplanned communities in St. James Parish, places where the tourists wouldn't want to go anyway. As for you, you've gotten a safe peek at the underbelly of a Caribbean paradise without personally ending up in the line of fire.

Life's a beach in Ocho Rios
For myself, I prefer the area of Ocho Rios or Negril as places to vacation on this island. They are smaller and more laid back, more friendly.  Sure, there's a Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in both Ocho Rios and in Montego Bay, but you can walk to the one from the wharf in Och Rios, whereas the one in Montego Bay will cost you a hefty taxi ride. And even then, you had best settle on the amount of the fee in advance, else you may feel like you got robbed without a gun being pulled on you.

Will I go back to Jamaica? You bet. I'll just be careful which parts I choose to visit. I still remember going to Montego Bay with the federal Jamaican narcs in the mid-1980's to run down one of our fugitives. Those guys told stories about crime and violence even back then.

Gotta go. Going through all this has made me thirsty for one of them rum drinks in a tall glass.

Have a good one.

04 March 2018

The Left Hand of Leonard

by R.T. Lawton


AHMM March/April 2018 cover
Con schemes have been going on since the serpent in the Garden of Eden sweet-talked Eve into taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.

"Come on, baby, just one bite. You know you want to. It'll make you smarter, prettier and it'll taste better than anything you've ever had." Or something like that. Choose your own words.

From that time forward,  according to the Bible, innocence was lost. Man, and woman, then came up with various ploys to manipulate other people into parting with their wealth, possessions or other coveted objects. In the last few years, you personally have likely been warned about many of the recent scams and probably even been approached by a scammer or three. But by now, you're too smart to fall for those types of ploys. Aren't you? Right, but all a scammer has to do is find your soft spot.

So, let's go back several centuries and see what was happening then. A religious fervor had swept all of Europe. The Crusades became the rage, with kings, knights, nobles, soldiers, monks, peasants and even young children hitting the road to the Middle East in an attempt to save the Holy Land for Christianity.

Over time, some of those pilgrims returned home with wondrous tales of strange sights in foreign lands. Many of these survivors had visited places referenced in the Bible, places that most stay-at-home people knew about only from worship services by their local religious leaders. Only now, with these returning pilgrims to speak first hand of what they'd seen, the places became real to the listener, no longer just place names in a book or a sermon. Along with these returned pilgrims came religious relics from the Holy Land. A bit of bones from some saint, a piece of wood from a coffin or cross, all alleged to have been from a particular person or place referenced in the Bible. Churches and monasteries began to purchase or otherwise acquire these holy relics. The fame of these religious organizations grew according to the status of the relics they had obtained. Competition grew fierce, to include the stealing of relics from their owners.

NOTE: King Louis IX of France himself purchased some of these relics from Baldwin the Second, then emperor of Constantinople, for the price of 130,000 livres. Actually, the money was paid to the Venetians who were holding the Passion Relics as collateral for cash they had loaned to Baldwin. In any case, King Louis received the relics at Paris in August 1239 where he first housed them in a building known as Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel). One of the items was alleged to be the Crown of Thorns (now lodged in Notre Dame Cathedral). In 1246, Louis added alleged fragments of the True Cross and the Holy Lance to his collection.

Now, back to those returning pilgrims. If a knight or soldier returning alone (not with his lord and master) hadn't plundered, then he probably came home broke. Food and travel to get there cost money. Who's to say a little piece of sheep bone or a sliver of ancient wood to display during a dramatic tale wouldn't bolster a good story about the Holy Land. Make the telling seem more real. Might be good for a meal and a cup of wine from the listening audience. And then, miracle of miracles, what if some stay-at-home nobleman or church leader desired to purchase that now "holy relic." The scam played out.

St. Leonard's Church in Noblat, France
This brings us to "The Left Hand of Leonard," 6th in my 1660's Paris Underworld series, AHMM March/April 2018 issue.

Our young-orphan, inept-pickpocket protagonist has been summoned by the leader of their criminal enclave to go south with two of the leader's henchmen to steal some of the bones of Saint Leonard from a church. The bones, alleged to have certain medicinal powers, are to be sold to a nobleman in order to heal his wife. The two henchmen and the young orphan travel to southern France, where under the cover of darkness, they enter the church. Unbeknownst to them, a clever con has already been set in motion. For the rest of the action and the ending, you'll have to read the story.

NOTE: Saint Leonard, the patron of imprisoned people (to include political prisoners, prisoners of war and Crusaders captured by the Muslims), women in labor and horses, died November 6, 559 A.D. His first claim to real fame came from the power of his prayers which saved the wife and child of a Frankish nobleman during a premature birth. In return, he was granted a plot of land where a town and a church were later built. After his death, his bones ended up in St. Leonard's Church in Noblat, France. Here's a real saint with real bones, pretty much accounted for through the centuries.

Thus was a home grown saint found and used for a fictitious story. The historical backgrounds meshed and were too good for me to pass up.

SIDE NOTE: Since we're talking about religious relics, here's an interesting situation for those of you watching the Knightfall series currently on television. It seems that in 2014, two Spanish researchers claimed to have found the Holy Grail inside another object in a church in the town of Leon in northern Spain. The cup has been analyzed as having been made in about the appropriate time period, however there is no direct line on its early history. When you look at the photo and see the rich materials used to make and decorate the cup, you have to wonder who the rich patron was who donated this chalice for the Last Supper, but then a richly jeweled chalice was probably more preferable to the religious tastes of the upper classes in the earlier centuries than an everyday clay pottered cup would have been. You are now left to draw your own conclusions.


28 January 2018

Who'd a Thought?

by R.T. Lawton

SOUTH DAKOTA - East River

It was Super Bowl Sunday 1980, when the bartender paged me to the phone. My boss was calling to let me know that a four-engine aircraft had come down in a wheat-stubble field just west of the Missouri River during the late afternoon. He then made a strong suggestion that I go to the scene.

SOUTH DAKOTA - West River

Just as the sun was peering over the horizon, I drove up out of a shallow ravine and there in the wheat-stubble field sat a four-engine aircraft with oil slicks from each engine dripping off the aft edge of both wings. The plane's fuselage was loaded with bales of marijuana, 26,000 pounds of the stuff.

As we later pieced it together, it seems that a group of entrepreneurs had purchased a couple of four-engine aircraft in Spain and had at least one of them flown to Panama where it was worked on. According to regulations, whenever a plane departed the airport in Panama, it was supposed to file a flight plan as to its destination, however there is an exception to that rule if the flight crew was merely going to take off, fly around to check out the maintenance work and then immediately land. So, that's what the aircrew told the tower they were going to do. They took off like they'd said, but then kept on going south, all the way to a clandestine airstrip in Colombia, an airstrip guarded by Colombian Army soldiers. Corruption at its finest.

The plane got loaded with pot bales and the aircrew was going through a pre-flight check list, when a jeep load of soldiers drove up and told the pilot to take off NOW. The pilot politely explained that it was too early to leave, that he had a certain two-hour window in which he was to take off in order to arrive at his destination at the correct time. At that point the conversation deteriorated.  The Colombian soldiers pointed their automatic weapons at the pilot and insisted it was time for him to depart their clandestine airstrip. Not having any weapons of his own, the pilot quickly cranked his engines and took off. The tenseness of this experience rattled the aircrew's nerves enough that shortly after wheels up on the landing gear, they commenced the consumption of rum.

Somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, the plane lost oil pressure. This necessitated the crew chief hooking up a 55-gallon barrel of oil and hand-pumping oil to each of the four engines. They entered U.S. airspace at the Texas border and allegedly flew north over Omaha, Nebraska, over SAC Headquarters without our Air Force scrambling fighter jets to intercept them. So much for our national border security in 1980.

Meanwhile, the ground crew, out of Minneapolis, was busy that late afternoon, laying out a landing strip in the wheat-stubble field with lights hooked up to car batteries, when they suddenly heard the approach of a large aircraft. They immediately got on their radio and told the airplane they had arrived too early and therefore were supposed to fly into North Dakota and return after dark before landing. However, the pilot having been threatened with automatic weapons, having consumed a quantity of rum for his nerves, and tired from having flown a leaky aircraft for several hours in air space he wasn't cleared to be in, made a heated reply, something to the extent of they were landing now, so get the hell out of the way. And, they did.

Airplane Number
South Dakota people are friendly folk and have a tendency to help people in distress, thus the ice fishermen on the Missouri River (America's true first line of national border defense) saw the airplane come down in the field, and in their concern for their fellow man, they immediately put down their fishing poles and drove over to assist these unfortunate souls downed in the middle of nowhere. Turned out, the aircrew members were not grateful for this offered assistance. The fishermen became suspicious and one brave guardian of America's borders let the air out of the plane's front tire, and state radio then got a call.

Now, the pilot, having been previously involved in these types of operations, had it in his contract that he would be driven to a motel to wait out the unloading process, after which he would be driven back to the wheat-stubble field and would then fly out the airplane. He never went back. Also, a fuel tanker and a flatbed semi with hay bales on the trailer were on a side road nearby to refuel the aircraft and offload the pot bales to then be concealed among the hay bales. They never got to perform their functions.

That's me in brown coveralls
and black wool watch cap
Back at the wheat-stubble field, seeing that all was not going according to plan, the ground crew scattered into the hills. Being city boys, they were not suitably prepared to spend the night in the great outdoors. By morning, most of them stumbled out as best they could to country roads. Cold, shivering, some with hay sticking out of their hair and clothes from burrowing into hay stacks to keep from freezing, these future felons begged to get arrested just to get warm again. For them, their grand pot plane adventure was over. Their court adventure was about to begin.

A few months later, DCI Agent Tommy Del Grosso and I flew down to Tampa, rented a car and drove over to a county jail where the pilot had taken up temporary residence. He agreed to talk to us if we'd take him out for a real meal. Guess he didn't care much for jail cuisine. Tommy and I signed him out in leg irons and took him to a local restaurant. When his meal came, I watched him pick up the salt shaker and pour it all over his salad. Having not seen this act before, I inquired as to what he was doing. His explanation was that it was terribly hot in that Florida jail, no air-conditioning for the summer heat, therefore the inmates sweated a lot and the jailers did not provide any salt or salt tablets, so he was taking this opportunity to load up. We got a lot of details from him on the smuggling operation, so he was worth the price of a meal and an empty salt shaker.

In the end, we had an airplane from Spain, flown out of Panama by an aircrew from Florida and loaded with marijuana from Colombia. The ground crew, fuel tanker and flatbed semi came from Minnesota, The wheat-stubble field was scouted out by a local boy from West River. A group of Eskimos from Alaska helped fund this pot plane endeavor, and if all had gone well, then three more smuggling flights were planned.

It was several years later, when I learned from another source that one of the higher up pot plane conspirators, that we didn't know about at the time, who was from the Dutch Antilles, took a long walk off one of the upper floors of a high rise in Singapore. The rumor in the drug world at the time was that someone in upper management wanted to ensure that his own name never got mentioned for some of their clandestine marijuana deals.

In retrospect, will we ever win this war on drugs? Probably not, but then most of us working agents figured the best we could do on the streets was to try to keep the lid on the garbage can.

                                                                           #

On September 30, 2017, my old boss and I took a road trip to Pierre, South Dakota, to attend the first and only Pot Plane Reunion. I got to meet and shake hands with the now 98 year old rancher/ice fisherman who let the air out of the plane's front tire. Also listened to the defense attorney who represented the pilot from Florida all those years ago. Unfortunately, too many law enforcement and others who had participated in the case had already passed on and there was one more of us who probably wouldn't make it to January in order to have the reunion on the actual anniversary date.

South Dakota. Super Bowl Sunday. A wheat-stubble field. Who'd a thought?

24 December 2017

A Holiday Gift Puzzle

by R.T. Lawton

In the old days, or at least about a decade and a half ago, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine used to publish a column in which the reader was presented with a logic puzzle. After I finally figured out how the logic puzzle worked, I wrote a story in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series where the characters used that same type of logic to solve the story puzzle. The reader got a chance to solve the puzzle before the story characters did. So, in honor of that past tradition, here's part of the story, and your own Happy Holidays logic puzzle for you to solve. Don't worry, hints are provided in the story to guide you through the logic process to find which person is the designated hitman.

"Yes sir," said Theodore, the bail agent. "it seems by the descriptions I was given, that we have one man with short, curly red hair, one blond male with a crew cut, one with medium brown hair and a man with black hair. Their names are Erikson, Zanos, Harris and Robertson. Their occupations, again in no particular order, seem to be a Stock Broker, a Car Salesman and an Insurance Salesman. The fourth is unknown and therefore obviously our Contract Killer, but I don't know which of these men has which occupation."

"I really hope you have more than that for me to go on," replied the proprietor.

"Well, there are a few more items of information that might help:
   1) the man with the unknown occupation, beat Zanos at golf a couple of days ago.
   2) Harris and the Car Salesman play poker once a week with the brown-haired man and the black-          haired man.
   3) Erikson and the Insurance Salesman dislike the brown-haired man.
   4) The Stock Broker has red hair.
and that's all I managed to get. The gift shop girl and the maids talked for free, but I had to cough up twenty bucks apiece to the others before they'd tell me anything. A bunch of crooks is what they are."

"Hush for a minute, I'm thinking."

The proprietor gazed off into the dark recesses of the inner sanctum's high ceiling. As the clock on the wall ticked off the minutes, he slowly began to stroke the silky sides of his long, black Bandito mustache. In time, he spoke.

"From what your interviews tell me, we know that Harris is not the Car Salesman and has neither brown nor black hair. Also that Erikson is not the Insurance Salesman and does not have brown hair. But, we do know the Stock Broker has red hair. And we know that Zanos is not the Contract Killer. The rest is a matter of logical thinking, thus we know that the color of the hair of the Car Salesman is..."

At this point, Theodore rubbed the tips of his pudgy, almost webbed fingers over the top of his bald head.

"Excuse me, sir. I kept up with you until you got to the logical thinking part, but I can't do this stuff in my head the way you do. Is there, perhaps.....an easier method?"

The proprietor removed paper and pen from the top drawer of his desk. Rapidly, he prepared a grid, which he then pushed across the desk to Theodore, along with a pen.

"Study this, then you fill in the blank spaces with an "O" for a positive and an "X" for a negative fact."

Theodore stared at the chart.

                    red   blond   black   brown    Stock Broker   Car Salesman   Insurance Salesman   Killer

Erikson                                          X                                                                        X

Zanos                                                                                                                                                X

Harris                                X         X                                             X

Robertson
_________________________________________________________________________________

Stk Brkr        O

Car Sales                            X         X

Ins Sales                                         X

Killer


"Okay, sir, I understand where the facts are on the chart, but can you give me a little boost on the logical thinking part?"

The proprietor sadly shook his head.

"Theodore, if you know that the Stock Broker has red hair, then you can place an 'X' in that row under "blond', 'black' and 'brown.' Those are negative facts. Go ahead and mark those in. Now, reading down the brown column, you see that the Stock Broker, the Car Salesman and the Insurance Salesman all have negative X's in their rows, therefore the Killer has brown hair. Put an 'O' in his row. You can figure out the rest."

Five minutes later, Theodore put down his pen.

"Okay, boss, I worked it out that the Car Salesman had blond hair and the Insurance Salesman had black hair, but I'm not sure where to go from here."

CAN YOU WORK IT OUT FROM HERE ?
(if not, then keep reading)

"Now it is a matter of simple elimination," said the proprietor. "Take Harris for example, his row has several blanks You know by those blanks that he can have red or blond hair and he can be the Stock Broker, the Insurance Salesman or the Contract Killer, but blond hair only goes with the Car Salesman as you determined earlier. Thus you eliminate the 'blond' in that row and you now know that that Harris has to be the Stock Broker, the only one with red hair. Keep working on it."

Ten minutes later, after several cross-outs, much scratching of his head and a few "Oh's", Theodore quietly laid down his pen. A self-satisfied smile radiated from his round, lumpy face.

"I figured out who the Contract Killer is. He's....."

DID YOU FIGURE IT OUT ?
(the answer is below)


"Ah, the Contract Killer is Mr. Robertson."

Happy Holidays from our house to yours !!!

26 November 2017

The Big Book of Rogues and Villains

by R.T. Lawton

Christmas is coming and the shopping days will soon be counting down at a rapid pace. And while Santa may be the one who knows whether you've been naughty or nice, sometimes good things happen regardless of how you've been.

To me, it started when I went to the DELL Cocktail Reception in Manhattan during Edgars Week about a year and a half ago. Although, if you wanted to be picky, you could successfully argue that it all started when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine published my 1660's Paris Underworld story, "Boudin Noir," in their December 2009 issue. In any case, while I was conversing with fellow authors at the reception, I happened to notice Otto Penzler, anthology editor and owner of Mysterious Bookstore, talking with Linda Landrigan, editor of AHMM. Not wanting to interrupt them, I waited until they were finished before making myself known to Linda. As things turned out, it was probably a wise choice on my part.

About a month later, I received an e-mail from Otto. He wanted to purchase the reprint rights to "Boudin Noir" for his upcoming anthology, The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, scheduled for a Fall 2017 publication. Hey, for extra money on an already published in AHMM story, AND to appear in an Otto Penzler anthology, you bet. Months afterwards, I spoke with Linda at a conference and mentioned the e-mail from Otto. That's when I learned that Otto had been asking her about any authors he should include in his anthology, and Linda had mentioned my name and one of my stories. Made me glad I hadn't interrupted their conversation at the reception.

So now, as of October 24, 2017, the book is available both in paper and in Kindle. You don't want to miss this one. 72 handpicked stories concerning some of the best and/or worst criminals that ever walked the earth.

Just think, you can be your own Santa Claus this year and it doesn't make any difference if you've been naughty or nice, you can still reward yourself with a great Christmas present. Order up a copy of  The Big Book of Rogues and Villains for your own reading pleasure. And, if you're feeling generous, order a copy for a friend or two.

I know what my four kids are getting for Christmas. Makes shopping easy.

22 October 2017

Black Friday

by R.T. Lawton

Walking into a pawn shop in the middle of a robbery can be a hazardous experience, especially if the robber is a relative amateur in these types of situations. That's the circumstances that Yarnell, a professional burglar, finds himself in when he goes to redeem his wife's diamond wedding ring from the shop. Fortunately for him, his wife doesn't know that her ring has been hocked, and he intends to keep it that way.

Anyway, it's hands up, hands down, hands up, then hands down again for Yarnell as he converses with the robber. And just when Yarnell and the robber come to some sort of  understanding about proper procedure, in walks Beaumont, Yarnell's partner in crime, who has his own thoughts about robbery etiquette.

Meanwhile, behind the counter in the back of the pawn shop, the recipient of the robbery, Lebanese George, who is also the owner of the pawn shop, has developed a case of tired arm muscles. So now, one of his hands has slowly declined to a half-raised position while he slurps coffee out of a mug held by his other hand.

The robber soon decides he wants everybody's money, in which case Yarnell tries to hand his money to Lebanese George first in order to pay off the hock on his wife's wedding ring. George, knowing he is going to lose the money anyway, refuses to accept the cash as payment to redeem the ring. That's when Yarnell learns his wife's ring is already part of the jewelry the robber is stealing. Thus, the robbery progresses. Up to a point.

"Black Friday" is the tenth story in my Holiday Burglars series, all ten of which have been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Short story critic Rob Lopresti has remarked that this one is the funniest story of mine that he has read to date. Who am I to argue with such a great mind?

This is Lebanese George's second appearance in one of my stories.His debut as a story character was in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series as a crooked wine merchant. In real life, the model for "Lebanese George" was a man who sold used cars with my Uncle Dick. Stories of some of their escapades were truly scam jobs on the general car buying public and hilarious situations in the telling. In his middle years, George had to go on the run from the Dixie Mafia and did his hiding out on a houseboat which traveled up and down the river as a means of frequently changing his address. I only met George once, and that was during his later years. At that time, he claimed to own a steak house in the city we were visiting. He did invite my wife and I to his restaurant for a free steak dinner, but we never made it to his establishment. I always wondered what that free steak dinner would've cost me.

George was a likable and very entertaining individual, which probably made him successful at whatever he did. With all that in mind, I'd say if he's still alive and you happen to meet up with him, keep one hand on your wallet and be sure it stays in your pocket. You can count your money before and after, but please don't count it in front of him.

Til next time.

24 September 2017

Informants 102

by R.T. Lawton

Last month, we discussed where informants came from and some of the reasons they agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. So now, let's say a potential informant walked into your local agency with the intention of cooperating, or you could even "have a hammer" on a criminal and he has chosen to "work off his beef." What do you, as a cop, do at this point? That depends upon the agency you work for. They all have their own rules and policies, but some things are basic.

The first thing you want to know is what can he do for you. If all he knows is that there's a lot of late night traffic at the place next to his residence and he suspects something criminal is going on, then you have nothing more than a citizen's complaint. Take down the info, thank him if he's a walk-in citizen and check it out later. It might be something, and then again, it might not be more than a group of dedicated party friends. If it's a criminal you busted and then made an offer to cooperate, lock him up, he's shining you on.

If he has names, dates, and specific knowledge of criminal activities, then you write up an intelligence report covering every crime and criminal he knows and ever met. Next, you see if the guy can introduce an undercover agent into one of the participants, give probable cause for a search warrant, or otherwise assist your agency. If so, then you take down a personal history of your new C.I. (you want to know who his relatives are and how to find him later if things go wrong), you photograph him (once again, to show people in case you need to hunt hi down or need a photo line-up for witnesses if things go wrong), and you fingerprint him (to make sure he is who he says he is and to determine his past criminal record, because things can go wrong). We busted a guy on a package delivery where one of our agents posed as a UPS driver. We quickly flipped the new defendant. Even his lawyer went along with him cooperating. Problem was when his prints came back, the guy was already in the wind. Seems the U.S. Marshals were looking for him under another name. Took us a while to catch up to him again. No offer for cooperation was made this time, nor did he get bond.

If the potential C.I. walks in wearing a tin foil hat, you politely show him the door. On his way out, you ask him what other agencies he's been to. In the old days, there was a circuit for those types. It seems some of our fellow agencies occasionally needed a little laugh to brighten up their work day, therefore those in tin foil hats were often referred to the last agency that had somehow stepped on their toes. Unfortunately, not all weirdos believed in the protective powers of tin foil, thus it may have taken a while to recognize them for what they were. I once received a phone call from a stage hypnotist who had performed the night before at a police benefit. He was calling to volunteer his services in helping us recruit the "best" informants. In the background, I swore I could hear adult male giggling.

Most agencies have some restrictions on various categories of informants. For instance, the use of juveniles is not permitted unless there is signed permission from at least one parent. Some agencies say no juveniles at all. The use of a one or two-time felon might be permissible, but the use of a three-time habitual criminal may need special permission from a higher up supervisor. Use of a felon on parole or probation may also need the permission of parole or probation agent who supervises that felon. After all, the goal of parole/probation is to remove the felon from the influence of his criminal buddies and into a better, more positive environment where he can straighten out, whereas if he works as an informant, then you are throwing him back into the same situations that led to him getting busted in the first place. And, if your potential informant is hooked on drugs, he'll make a great drug snitch, but there are inherent problems. We had a C.I. we'll call Thomas. He was great at making heroin buys. We'd search him, give him the buy money and then surveill him going into the dealer's house. When Thomas came back out, he would hand over the ten caps of smack he'd just bought. We'd search him again to ensure he had no drugs on him and that he didn't keep any of the buy money for himself. It wasn't until trial that we found out Thomas was such a good customer that the dealer gave Thomas eleven caps of smack for that amount of buy money. Seems Thomas shot up the eleventh capsules while he was still in the house, thus the supposed evidence count and the money spent always balanced out.

All informants are given a number which is referred to in buy and surveillance reports instead of using the informant's name. True, the defendants will figure out who the informant really is in the end, but it delays the process and affords the informant a measure of protection for a while. Generally, it gives him time to relocate.

In many agencies, the informant also signs an Informant Agreement. This document serves to remind the cooperating individual of the terms of the agreement between him and the agency. It also says point blank that the informant is not a law enforcement agent, nor is he an employee of that agency, and therefore has none of the powers of a cop. You'd be surprised.

And, this brings us to guns. Always search the informant before meeting the bad guys. If it's an informant buy, then you want to be sure he has no drugs going in. You also count any money he has on him to ensure he doesn't buy any drugs for personal use. And, you search him for weapons. Do that same search if the informant is introducing you in an undercover capacity to the bad guys. You would not believe the number of times we found guns on informants while getting ready to go in on a deal. Their common retort is you have a gun, why can't I have one?

Let me count the ways things can go wrong.

Especially if the informant is carrying a gun.

27 August 2017

Informants 101

by R.T. Lawton

Law enforcement, in many cases, depends upon informants to solve crimes, catch criminals in the act, or at least get pointed in the right direction as to who did it and sometimes how they did it. Information from informants also helps law enforcement agencies recover stolen goods from robberies, burglaries and scams. Do informants provide this information out of the goodness of their heart? Rarely. Can they get hurt for conducting these informant activities? Oh yeah. Those in the criminal world despise informants and often dish out punishments ranging up to severe beatings and even death.

So why do these people inform on their friends, associates, fellow criminals and even family in some cases? Guess you could say there are a lot of reasons, and every informant has his or her own personal reason. So, let's take a look at where they come from and why they make that choice.

Fear:
 ~Fear is a constant factor in the underworld and many of those on the street have or are committing crimes to survive in their environment or in an attempt to get ahead in the world, maybe even to acquire some of the luxuries they think they so richly deserve in life. If these people feel that the cops are getting close to them for past crimes committed, they may voluntarily come forward and offer to work in exchange for a free pass on their prior misdeeds. On the other side of the coin, after the police do make arrests for past crimes committed, the police will often make the new defendant an offer, assuming the police have other criminals they want to put in prison and think their new arrestee can make cases on those criminals. In street slang, this is known as "having a hammer" on the soon-to-be informant. He either works, or gets a lengthy sentence.

For instance, in the drug world, we generally want to move up the ladder to a bigger dealer, so in exchange for a lighter sentence, the defendant agrees to make cases on his supplier and any other larger suppliers he can get into. Then, when that larger supplier goes down, we make him an offer too. Some take the deal, some don't.

 ~Running on the streets is a dog eat dog environment. Many criminals and criminal organizations use fear to maintain their position and as a measure of protection from rivals and others who may wish to do them harm. However  this same fear sometimes prompts a lesser criminal to work with the law in order to remove that threat from his personal safety. Fear can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

 ~And strangely enough, there is the fear of being thought an informant. I took advantage of this fear once in Kansas City. We had just arrested a drug dealer and were driving him to the county jail for processing. We made him an offer and he declined, but wasn't civilized about the declination. So, as we were passing a local night club where several gangsters were hanging out on the street, I hit the brakes, screeching the tires. I then pointed towards the gangsters and hollered loud enough for all to hear, "Is that the guy?" The sudden stop of our car threw the handcuffed defendant forward and he instinctively looked where I was pointing. All the gangsters saw his face. I then drove on. His next comment was, "I may as well become an informant now, because all those guys already think I am after this." He went on to do a fair job, just not on those gangsters, and he subsequently got a lighter sentence in court,

Revenge or Jealousy:
 ~Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Can't tell you how many times a cast-off wife, mistress or girlfriend has called up to give information on their good-for-nothing ex-partner who just happens to have a long list of of ongoing or prior crimes. One of my long time fugitives hiding out in Venezuela was tripped up by the cast-off girlfriend of the man in Florida who forwarded hiding-out money on a monthly basis from the fugitive's dear, old, sweet corruptible mother in Wyoming.
 ~And, that green-eyed goddess of envy prompts many a person who sees others living in the lap of luxury from the proceeds of their crimes to drop a dime on those richer competitors, so as to give them a little well deserved misery.

Mercenary:
 ~These are the ones who do it for the money. They are usually the easiest ones to control, and when they finish working your area, you usually pass them along to work another area far enough away that the word hasn't spread, yet close enough that the informant is easily available for court on your own cases, if necessary.

Ego:
 ~These guys are looking for the positive feedback they never received as a kid. Or, they consider themselves to be smarter than the opposition and this is a way to prove it.

Wannabe:
 ~Someone who wants to be a cop, but isn't good enough to make the cut. It could be a physical problem, a psychological one, or maybe he didn't have the needed education. This type may try to tell you how to do your job.

James Bond Syndrome:
 ~These people are often dangerous to the controlling agent. They frequently fantasize about their position, exaggerate their knowledge of criminals and have been known to setup arrangments which parallel their favorite movie scene. We found out later, that one guy we dubbed as Pale Rider had wired up his own apartment to make his own recordings on dealers and on drug agents. In the end, we busted him for dealing on the side while he was working for us.

Repentance:
 ~Some people feel bad for their past crimes and want to make up for their transgressions, but that is seldom their only motivation for cooperating with the law.

Perverse:
 ~People in this category may be trying to discover who the undercover agents are or who other informants are. I've run into both of these situations. Fortunately, it turned out bad for them and not for our side.
 ~They may be trying to find out your agency's targets, methods of operation or how the agency's surveillance equipment works.
 ~They may be trying to eliminate their competition so they can get a larger percent of the criminal earnings.
 ~And sometimes they are sent by the criminal organization you're working on to infiltrate your organization. In some cases, they don't come as informants for you. This could be as simple as the Bandidos or H.A.'s sending their girlfriends to work as dispatchers or secretaries for the local cop shop or even a federal agency. You've all seen the movie "The Departed." That's closer to reality than you may think.

So, now you've got an idea of the who's and the why's of an informant. Next Month, in Informants 102, we'll discuss the ins and out's of handling these so-called cooperating individuals.

In the meantime, if you're involved in criminal activities, who can you trust? Nobody. Given the right motivation, anybody can turn on you.

As the Hell's Angels say, "Three can keep a secret, if two are dead."

Pleasant dreams.

30 July 2017

Into the Jungle

by R.T. Lawton


Khun Sa
photo by Satham Pairoah
From roughly 1963 until 1996, a man with the chosen name of Khun Sa operated as an opium warlord in the region of Southeast Asia known as The Golden Triangle. This triangle consisted of a mountainous jungle area involving three countries: Burma, Laos and Thailand. The land was populated by many people of different ethnic groups, several of which were hill tribes. For centuries, Turks from the west, Mongols from the north and various waves of Chinese out of Yunnan Province had invaded this land and absorbed the local inhabitants. As a result, a great number of languages and dialects were spoken here. Religions ranged from Muslim to Buddhist to animalistic and variations.

#1 "Across the Salween"
AHMM Nov 2013
Khun Sa, which means Prosperous Prince in the Shan language, was a man with a murky past and a strong future. Most historians agree that he was born of a Chinese father and a woman from the Shan hill tribe in Burma. He lived in an atmosphere of treachery and shifting alliances among the various opium armies where only the strong and cunning survived. And, he was a survivor, but like the Germans in World War II, he eventually found that he couldn't fight a war on two fronts at the same time. The Burmese Army had finally squeezed his Shan Army into a small area where he had his back to a river. Being a survivor, he surrendered to the Burmese government and went on to become a thriving businessman in his retirement from opium warlord status.

opium field in Burma
After creating four successful series for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (two other potential series didn't make the I'd-like-to-buy-it list), I was searching for something new to write. My first acceptance with AHMM ("Once, Twice, Dead")  had been set in the Golden Triangle at a time when the magazine's previous editor was looking for stories with an exotic background. This one was written as a standalone  with the protagonist not being a good candidate to start a series, however, the Golden Triangle was an intriguing background for a series. I'd been to Vietnam in 1967-68 (in-country in the highlands), so I had a feel for the area, plus reports on the mountain opium smugglers had crossed my desk over the years during my main career, and I now had a Chinese historian living next door at my current residence. True, his English isn't always the best, but his wife who speaks five languages, to include Mandarin and English, makes for an excellent translator when he looks up internet facts for the Chinese version of history's events, which are not always the same as the English version of the same happening.

#2 "Elder Brother"
AHMM Jan/Feb 2015
Then, I began brainstorming to come up with characters and story lines conducive to the Golden Triangle. With such a background location already rife with treachery, corruption and violence, it was easy to implement our frequently used writing technique of What If?  Since he real opium warlord supposedly came from a mixed race family, what if my White Nationalist Chinese (KMT) story warlord had two sons, one half-Chinese/half-Shan hill tribe and the second son was pure-blood Chinese. In oriental culture, the elder brother tends to have dominance, but a pure-blood considers himself as better than a mongrel half-breed. It now becomes a conflict between Elder Brother (the half-Chinese/half-Shan) and the younger pure-blood Chinese.

poppy dripping opium sap
from cut during harvest
Naturally, the elder brother is raised in the jungle and is comfortable in those surroundings, while the younger brother has grown up in the British school system in Hong Kong. The younger brother, our protagonist for this series, has studied Julius Caesar, Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, yet has no knowledge of jungle survival. After his mother died in Hong Kong, the younger son (as a young adult) finds himself taken out of the civilized world and transplanted to a jungle camp in the mountains of Southeast Asia. As his opium warlord father says, it is time he learned the family business and made his own way in the world.

#3 "On the Edge"
AHMM Oct 2015
Elder Brother has the position of Staff Captain and is in command of some Shan Army troops, part of his father's army. The younger brother has the rank of Sub-lieutenant and is in command of some of his father's Kuomintang troops (KMT), the old White Nationalist Chinese soldiers originally under Chiang Kai-Shek that went south out of Yunnan Province after Mao's Red Army chased them out of China during their civil war. And, as the KMT generals said after being stranded in Burma, an army needs an income and opium was handy.

Woman of the Mon tribe
Thus, we are presented with two half-brothers from different backgrounds, who have no love for each other, not to mention that only one of the brothers can inherit the position of opium warlord upon their father's demise. The competition begins and the reader has a front row seat on the safety of the sidelines to see every move made by the warring brothers, though sometimes the reader should look below the surface of what appears to be happening. Not all the enemies are within the family; other organizations and opposing opium warlords are also seeking any advantage they can take.
#4 "Making Merit"
AHMM July/Aug 2017

So far, AHMM editor Linda Landrigan has purchased five stories in the Shan Army series with #5 being "The Chinese Box", while one more manuscript, #6 "Reckoning with Your Host," is soon to be submitted to her e-slush pile.

To add spice to each story, old Chinese proverbs are often quoted in dialogue by our protagonist. Sometimes these sayings can be taken at face value, other times the wording may be twisted to fit the circumstances. Any way you look at it, the ride should be a new adventure for readers into a world that once truly existed. Root for whichever side you like, they are still people you wouldn't want to marry your sister or daughter. And if you should be unwise enough to take one home for supper, be aware that the pain between your shoulder blades could be the steak knife missing from your silverware.


Sleep well, and be glad these real life characters are on the other side of the world.

25 June 2017

Where'd We Bury That Guy?

by R.T. Lawton


Dominican Republic
attribution: alexrk2
Okay, so it's 1492 and some Italian guy named Cristoforo Colombo (Cristobal Colon in Spanish) has received the blessing of the King and Queen of Spain to sail across the Atlantic in search of a route to India. He missed it by several thousand miles, but did discover a bunch of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Of course, the Taino and Caribe people had already been living on these islands for a very long time and had no idea they were in need of being discovered. In any case, the arrivals of these alleged discoverers turned out to be disastrous for the native landholders. Thus, whether you perceive ol' Chris as a famous explorer who had the courage to cross a vast expanse of water in not much more than three over-sized rowboats with sails, or as an infamous destroyer of native culture in a brave new world, is a choice for you to make.

To continue with the Who's in the Grave search, it was on December 6, 1492 that Chris found a chunk of land in the Caribbean and dubbed the island as Hispaniola. To us modern folk, we know it as an island composed of two countries; the west one-third being Haiti and the eastern two-thirds being the Dominican Republic. Actually, Chris landed on the Haiti side, but to him, it was just one island. At the time, he had no idea of the wars, civil wars and division that was to come.

The Spanish used Hispaniola for their first seat of colonial rule in the New World. Because of wars in Europe among various countries, the ownership of islands in the Caribbean often changed hands. During a war when the French got involved, Spain ceded the western portion of Hispaniola to France. This part then became known as Haiti. Revolutions and civil wars finally decided languages, borders and governments for both new countries. On at least two occasions, the U.S. later stepped in to quiet things down.

The catafalque in Seville Cathedral
Back to Chris. In 1504, after his fourth voyage to the Caribbean, Columbus returned to Spain an ill and infirm man. He died in 1506 and was buried in the Spanish city of Valladolid. Dissatisfied with the burial site, his son Diego had Chris' remains dug up and transferred to a monastery in Seville where he rested until 1542 (or 1537, depending upon who you believe). The remains were then disinterred along with son Diego's bones and both put on a ship to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The new Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor was to be his final resting place, but after a quarter of a century of peace, ol' Chris was destined to take up travel again.

In 1795, France took Hispaniola from Spain, so Chris' remains were removed to Havana, Cuba. Then during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Chris once again took ship. He landed in Andalusia and was interred in a tomb at Seville Cathedral.

And just when everyone thought the matter was settled, we have to back up to 1877 when a worker in the Cathedral de Santa Maria la Menor discovered a lead box of bones. The box was inscribed "The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea." So, it's possible that some industrious Dominican had swapped in a different set of bones and the Spanish unknowingly took the wrong ones to Cuba in 1795. After all, Chris had stated before his death that he wanted to be interred in Hispaniola. One small problem with the inscription on the lead box, his son Diego was also known as Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

Today, two countries claim to have the burial site of Christopher Columbus. In 2003, to prove up their claim, Spain had the bones in their catafalque tested. The DNA results published in 2006 confirmed a close match to Chris' brother Diego. (Both son and brother had the same first name of Diego.) To bolster their side of the argument, the Spanish also had well documented travels of the remains, although some scientists did not think these bones were those of a man who had suffered from severe arthritis as Columbus was known to have endured in later life.

As for the Dominicans, citing respect for the dead, they declined to have their bones in the lead box which was held in their newly built Columbus Lighthouse disinterred for DNA analysis. That leaves the world to wonder if the bones in the Dominican Republic are those of a stranger, those of his son Diego, or if some of Chris got left behind way back in the 1795 Cuba trip, meaning at least part of him got his wish to be interred in his old Hispaniola.

That's me on the right
Regardless where Chris ended up, the guy sure got a lot of frequent cruise miles.

As for my experience in the Dominican Republic, our snorkel excursion was cancelled due to rough seas, so we did our own brave new world exploring and went zip lining for our first time ever.

It was exhilarating.