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

25 November 2018

Hey, I'm Writing Here

by R.T. Lawton


So, here I am writing at my computer on a Friday morning somewhere around 10:45, minding my own business, preparing my next blog article in advance so as to stay ahead of the game. For some reason, I glance out the study window. Across the street, but not parked at the curb, sets a black Jeep Cherokee, pointing in the wrong direction for that side of our cul de sac. The driver is leaning forward in his seat like he's reading the dashboard or looking at something on the floor. He stays in that position for a while, but his head moves occasionally, so I'm pretty sure it isn't a problem where I'll have to out and give him CPR. I go back to writing.

About five minutes later, I glance out the study window again to check on the vehicle. It hasn't moved, but the driver is now standing on the rear bumper. On the roof of his Jeep, he has positioned an orange Home Depot bucket, a reddish one-gallon plastic jug and a length of rubber hose. One end of the hose is in the bucket and the other end disappears over the driver's side of the vehicle. Obviously, the poor guy has run out of gas.

Since my vision has declined to the point where the state no longer allows me to drive at night, I call my wife into the study and ask her if it's anyone we know. She replies in the negative, watches for a few seconds and then goes upstairs and starts taking pictures. Unfortunately, her cell phone camera focuses on the screen mesh in the storm window. She then goes out the back of our house and shoots off a few more from the corner of our garage. I need to get that woman one of them long range lenses.

I pick up the binoculars to see what the guy is doing now. He keeps pulling up on a cloth to cover his lower face. I tell you, something ain't right here.

Two neighbor women who frequently walk together for exercise, pass by the guy and barely notice him and his actions.

Well, you can take the cop out of the street, but you can't necessarily take the street out of the cop. I abandon my writing, put on my hat, lace up my tennie-runners and exit the rear of my house to walk around to the street. Wished I'd a had a baseball bat to carry along, but I'd given both bats to my grandsons years ago when they got interested in baseball. Could have taken my 9mm, but I'm not law enforcement anymore. Civilians get in trouble for shooting other people, even shooting criminals if it's a non life threatening situation. This appears to be a misdemeanor, which is a non capital crime. Oh sure, we have the Make-My-Day-Law, but the guy isn't in my house, so no free shots here. I'm better off, at this point, not carrying a firearm. Still, the bat would have been a good idea because the guy is in his twenties, slender, about 5'10" and healthy. Me, I've managed to put more than seven decades behind me, but while my mind still thinks it's got it, my body is not so sure. It's like having the brains of a fighting rooster with the body of a..... Never mind, form your own picture.

By now, the guy is sitting on the curb beside my neighbor's red Jeep. The guy's head is almost inside the red Jeep's rear wheel well. His head comes out when he hears my approach.

I lead off.

"Does Frede know you're siphoning gas out of his Jeep?"

The guy remains unruffled and calm.

"Yep."

Well, hell, that slowed me down. I expected a shouting confrontation or to have the guy make a dash for freedom. Nothing.

Next question.

"How do you know Fred?"

"From school."

Now he's got me because Fred is a college professor and I've had at least one other weird run-in with some of Fred's strange associates. Something about an early morning encounter a few years ago when a young woman crawled underneath this same red Jeep and staying there while her male companion tried to get her out. And, no, she wasn't a transmission mechanic. People sure are entertaining.

One way to find out what's going on this time. I head up the sidewalk to Fred's house. At this point, the guy immediately jumps up, runs to his car and drives away. Me being armed with only pen and paper, I jot down his license plate number and go ring Fred's doorbell. Fred comes out in his stockinged feet.

The gas thief has punctured the gas refill hose above the fuel tank with a knife, stuck one end of the hose into the line and down into the gas tank. By sucking on the other end of the hose, he got the fuel moving and then stuck that end in the bucket. The gas was still siphoning out of the red Jeep when Fred got down on his hands and knees to look into the wheel well.

Amazingly enough, a uniform cop shows up to take statements and make a report. I transfer the photos my wife took over to the cop's cell phone. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the thief's face, but then he kept the lower half covered anyway. Turns out the license plate comes back to a green Jeep Cherokee, not a black one. Probably a stolen plate.

All this happened in broad daylight in a nice residential area. Pretty bold for a thief.

I tell my wife we may need to start up a mini-neighborhood watch, just for our cul de sac. She agrees, but then she probably wants to be in charge of the photography department.

I also tell my two grandsons that I want my bats back. I'm not going out there un-weaponed again. Hell, I'm over seventy and have more writing to do.

Damn distractions.

                                                           *     *      *      *

On a side note, the Best American Mystery Stories 2018 put my name in their list of Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2017 for "Black Friday" AHMM Nov/Dec 2017. According to John Floyd's record keeping, that's my third time on their list. Now, if I could only edge over into the Top Twenty category.

28 October 2018

The Rashomon Effect

by R.T. Lawton

In 1922, a short story titled "In a Grove" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa was published in the January edition of the Japanese monthly, Shincho. This short story tells a tale about the rape of a samurai's wife and the subsequent murder of that samurai from the point of view of several different characters, and with contradictory information from one character to the next.

Twenty-eight years later, movie director Akira, Kurosawa (famous director of The Seven Samurai) used Akutagawa's short story as the basis to make his 1950 film, Rashomon. Similar to the short story, Rashomon is a tale told by four witnesses to a rape and murder: the bandit, the samurai's wife, the murdered samurai who tells his part through a medium, and a woodcutter who appears to have no bias in his telling. All of the witnesses seem to agree on some facts, but disagree on others. These disagreements on the same incident though, may be subjective, self-serving or due to the ego of that witness. Because of the contradictions in the stories of each witness, the actors in this film asked the director which version was the truth. Kurosawa replied that his film was meant to explore multiple realities rather than just one truth.

Then along comes Martin Ritt, who remakes the Japanese Rashomon into a 1964 American western titled The Outrage. Paul Newman is cast in the role of the bandit Juan Carrasco, William Shatner as a disillusioned preacher, Howard Da Silva as an unsuccessful prospector, Edward G. Robinson as a cynical conman. and Paul Fix as an old Indian shaman. Laurence Harvey plays an aristocratic Southerner married to Nina, who is played by Claire Bloom. At the bandit's trial, Juan (Paul Newman) claims he killed the husband (the Southerner) in a duel. The wife claims she stabbed her husband to death because he blamed her for encouraging the bandit, which led to the rape, while the dead husband (through the old Indian shaman) claimed he committed suicide as the manner of his death. The prospector has a fourth version for the trial.

In later years, television and movies used The Rashomon Effect to reveal "the truth" in the final version of some of their stories, which put a neat and tidy ending on those Hollywood's stories. However, in real life, a Rashomon effect is more like what cops deal with on the street whenever an incident happens, especially one that involves the emotions or prejudices of the witnesses. By the time interviews start with an incident involving law enforcement, the recollection of the events and timeline, descriptions of perpetrators and vehicles, types of guns or if there actually were any guns and/or the type and color of clothing worn by alleged suspects can vary quite a bit.

For our purposes as writers, The Rashomon Effect may be defined as a story told by several witnesses or alleged witnesses to the same incident. Each story as told by a separate witness and from their Point of View, will have some of the facts straight, but their story may also be colored or influenced by their personal biases, opinions, or even flavored to benefit themselves or others. Each witness story will contradict some of the alleged facts in the stories of other witnesses. The final version may be "the truth." Or not.

Curiosity led me to research The Roshomon Effect. And now that I have, I'm intrigued enough with the process to attempt a short story using that method. I already have the main characters and a skeleton plot mapped out. Now, I merely need to write my six-part story and see if all the contradictory parts fit.

But then, it's always something, isn't it?

#

And now for a little Blatant Self-Promotion:

The November/December 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine has my story, "Vet's Day," 11th in my Holiday Burglars series. As with many of the titles in this series, I like putting double meanings into the title. In this episode, Beaumont finds himself compelled to do a favor for his old Army First Sergeant who once had Beaumont running an off-the-books NCO Club in a Muslim country in exchange for an early out from the military. Due to a lack of personal funds, Beaumont figures the only way he can complete the favor now asked by his old sergeant is for him to commit a strange burglary. And, in order to talk his partner Yarnell into going along with him on this job, Beaumont must agree to something that Yarnell wants in return.

NOTE: Fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken and Rob Lopresti also have short stories in this issue.

Catch ya later.

30 September 2018

Just Another Day at the Office

by R.T. Lawton

Okay, I was going to write something about Bouchercon for this Sunday's blog, but not too long after I got back from St. Petersburg, there was a curious letter in my stack of mail. The letter was addressed to me at my home and had a return address from the Colorado Springs Police Department. First off, they never write to me about anything, and second, if it's not a request for help of some kind or a speaking engagement, then it can't be something good.

My wife opened the letter and told me I might be in trouble. I grabbed the letter and started reading. It seemed that I was hereby being notified that in accordance with the Revised Municipal Code of the City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Motor Vehicle Laws that the following vehicle has been impounded:

     Vehicle:    1990 WHI JEEP WRANGLER          Lic. Plate:   CO960YCR
     VIN:         2J4FY29T7LJ516354                         Impound #  3259-18
     Reason:    RECOVERED STOLEN               
     Date:         09/17/2018          J Strachan  1778

The storage fee was $30 a day and if the vehicle was not claimed, then it would be sold at auction on 01/14/2019. Also, I could not claim the car after 4 PM because they close the office at that time.

WOW!

This was a lot to think about, mainly because I had never owned a Jeep Wrangler of any year or color, much less an old 1990 white one. And, to my knowledge, I had never owned or licensed any vehicle which had been subsequently stolen. Was this a scam letter? If so, how were they hoping to get the money? Had I missed something? Or was this a new type of sting operation run by the police to see if someone would try to get a vehicle on the cheap by making a false claim and bonding out the car? And most importantly, why was my name and address tied to a stolen vehicle?

Time to do some sleuthing.

I called the telephone number for the police impound lot. Not the number on the letter. I knew better than to do that, thus I called the number on their internet website. Turned out to be the same number. So much for being cautious. After a long taped recitation of my choices as to which button to push in order to speak with the party I needed, I finally got put on hold until a real person came on the line. I explained the situation and that I had never owned this Jeep, nor did I know anything about it.

The impound lot employee was polite and sounded helpful. He plugged the impound number into his computer and started checking.

HIM: "So when you took the license plates off..."
ME:   "No, no, I never owned the vehicle. I don't have anything to do with it."
HIM: "Okay. Well, the new owner picked it up today."
ME:  "That's good, but how did my name and address get associated with the stolen Jeep?"
HIM: "Just a minute, I'll check the file."  LONG PAUSE  "The DMV said that's who the VIN came back to."
HE & I in CHORUS:  "Have a good day."

Next step, drive to the DMV and wait in line. Twenty-four people in the vehicle registration line ahead of me. My ticket number in the queue is 654. Drivers license people and other problems get different group numbers than the 600 series. I settle in. Just before I fall out of the chair asleep, the loud speaker announces my number.

At Desk #3 (there are well over twenty numbered desks surrounding our cattle pen), I hand my letter from the impound lot to the nice lady and explain my problem. She also takes my driver's license for proper identification and then consults her computer. After much careful looking, she assures me the VIN on the stolen Jeep in my letter is not registered to me.

"Then how," I inquire, "did the police department get my name?"

"Well," she says, "the name on the VIN is very close to your name."

It appears that I got caught in the scatter gun approach to legal notification. And that was all the information I could gather. I never did find out the owner's name, nor whether he was the new owner or the old owner, nor the complete circumstances of the stolen Jeep. You know, like who stole it to begin with and how was it recovered?

It's tough not being in law enforcement anymore, a position where people would give you the rest of the story.

Now, it's just another day at the writing office.

What next?

26 August 2018

A Parable?

by R.T. Lawton

Fables, parables and allegories are all similar. Roughly, a fable is a short story where animals or objects tell a story by speaking in order to teach a moral or religious lesson; a parable is a story designed to teach a moral or religious lesson with people doing the speaking; and an allegory is a story where ideas are symbolized as people. Sometimes a short story may be considered as more than one of these at the same time and sometimes in general conversation, people will interchange the three words.

When you think of fables, the first ones to your mind are probably the ancient Greek stories such as the dog in the manger and the fox and the grapes. Those types of old stories. Many old civilizations have used fables, parables and allegories as a method of teaching about life. One parable believed to be derived from early Taoism is the farmer whose horse ran away and all his neighbors lamented his bad fortune. The farmer's response was, "We'll see." The next day, his runaway horse returned to the farm with another horse and the neighbors rejoiced at the farmer's good fortune of obtaining a free horse. Again, the farmer said, "We'll see." The next day, the farmer's son fell off the new horse and broke his leg. The neighbors lamented the farmer's ill luck of his son having broken a leg. Again, the farmer said, "We'll see." On the following morning, the army came through the village and pressed all the healthy young men into service, but they left the farmer's son alone because he had a broken leg. The moral being, as the farmer had learned, was that life is unpredictable and you never know how a situation will turn out.

From old Hinduism came the parable of six blind men describing an elephant, but each blind man only felt one part of this elephant. One felt the trunk, another the tail, another a leg, another a tusk, another the body and another the head. Therefore, each man's description varied from the others, depending upon the part he touched. In the end, each blind man was partially correct, but none of them saw, or rather knew, the full picture. These days, you can easily apply this parable to various people in politics.

This issue also has a story by SS member
Janice Law, while James Lincoln Warren's
story gets the cover.
This topic of teaching lessons through various story methods brings us to my short story, "The Chinese Box," in the September/October 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. (The same issue that DELL Publishing is giving out at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersberg, FL) This is the 5th story in my Shan Army series concerning the two sons of an opium warlord vying to inherit their father's empire in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia.

The story involves a wooden puzzle box with movable parts, probably much like ones you've seen and handled yourself. It also involves another inanimate object, however all the speaking and storytelling is done by humans, so the story is not a fable. Whether or not the story itself can be considered a parable, the younger half-brother sees the end result of the trek that he and his elder half-brother are on through mountain jungles to deliver their father's opium to dragon powder factories in northern Thailand to be a lesson in life being taught to them by their father. At the end of the journey, the younger son tells his old Mon scout the moral of what he's learned.

Several of my stories in the Shan Army series and in my Twin Brothers Bail Bond series involve Chinese proverbs in the former and the sayings of Ghandi in the latter as key elements in the story line, but I don't know that I've involved or written any parables before this.

How about you guys? Have you written or used any parables in your own works?

29 July 2018

The Modular Story

by R.T. Lawton

So far, all of my 100+ published short stories have been what is known as straight line stories, those told in chronological order. But then in the May/June 2018 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I read "Suspect Zero" by Benjamin Percy. His story is called a modular story, one which is told out of sequence, but the modules are related by thematic meaning. It's not that the author can just rearrange the segments in the telling of the story and call it good. If the author has done his job correctly, then the reader can find the connection from one story module to the other.

And yes, I did have to read the story twice to pick up some of the elements, however, I will chalk that up to the slowing of my brain function due to advancing age rather than upon Percy's abilities. Frankly, I found his story to be very well written. Intrigued by the concept, I researched what goes into the making of a modular story. Then, I dissected "Suspect Zero" to see the details of how this particular story worked. Below are my short notes. Of course, you as a different reader may find other items of interest in your own reading and dissection of this story.

The story modules in my dissection are presented here in the same consecutive order that the story reads from the first module to the last one. The numbers in bold (#4, #2, etc.) are the way that the story segments would read if they were put in chronological order if it had been written as a straight line story. Thus, the note labeled #4 5:32 am is the first module in the story, but would be the 4th set of events in chronological order.The times, dates and locations in bold are the same ones the author used as headings for each module. The subsequent notes are my condensing of the action or events happening in that module.

#4  5:32 am 11/20 Chip County, WI
     Train moving through the early morning, stops, conductor checks cars and finds a foot sticking out (from a dead man) in a coal car.         Conductor's POV

#2  1:00 am 11/20 Steele County, MN
     Man watches train go by, remembers laying pennies on the track as a kid, remembers hints of him getting in trouble when a girl disappeared, no proof against him, but his mother knew and threw him out of the house. Train passes, he parks the truck out in the country. He's dressed as a shadow, gloves, sneaks up on a house, tries the windows, then breaks out sliding glass back door as train noise covers his sounds. Reader feels he's going to kill/rape someone.
        Man's POV (reader sees as potential killer)

#1  3:01 pm 11/19 Steele County, MN
     Laura in house thinks she's far enough out in country that no one would bother her, but she has four visitors come to door: deliveryman, Girl Scout, Mormon boys, and meat truck driver/seller with Pete's Meat Truck. Truck driver/seller comes in house w/o permission, asks questions about her living way out here. As she pushes him out, train goes by like a banshee cry.
         Laura's POV (NOTE: she ends up being the criminal protag)

#5  10:30 am 11/20 New Auburn, WI
     Funeral director Mildred is also the coroner of a dying town. Sheriff asks her to look at dead man found on top of RR car. She says dead about 12 hours. Corpse has no teeth and no hands. Mildred says that was because the killer was looking for time to get away without being discovered.   
         Mildred's POV (NOTE: sex of corpse is not disclosed)

#6  4:16 pm 11/24 Steele County, MN
     Templetons return home from Europe to find that someone has been in their house. Call deputies. Talk about what has been disturbed. Deputies ask if they have dogs or cats. Why? They found blood by back door, but no bodies.             Homeowner's POV

#3  2:00 am 11/20 St. Paul, MN
     Jimmy, a fence with a room below his pawn shop, meets with a female maybe named Laura. He shows a pistol in his belt. They dicker on price for stolen merchandise, then go to the truck (Pete's Meat Truck) to show Jimmy the stolen goods. She gives him the truck keys. He wants sex with her before he pays, tries to force her. She pulls a knife, stabs his wrist to the table and takes his gun. She also takes the security footage and all his money. "Already, Jimmy understood that she was in fact the blade and not the meat to be butchered."                   Jimmy's POV

It is only in the final module that the readers, if they have followed the clues, realize that the body on the train was the man/truck driver/seller in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th modules of the story and that the house in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th modules is the same house. The final module also reveals that Laura is the real killer and not some innocent housewife as the reader is led to believe she is based on information in the 3rd module (chronological segment #1).

So now, assuming you've read this far, you have probably figured out why I had to read the story twice. In any case, I enjoyed the story so much that I laid out a plan to write my own modular story, "The Band Played On." It is now almost ready to submit. Unfortunately, we won't know for about eleven months whether or not my modular story gets accepted for publication. Regardless of the outcome, I had fun with the modular story structure and fleshing out the details.

As long as we're talking about different story structures, did you know there is also the Rashomon method for telling stories?

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.