10 February 2012

In Black & White

Not long ago I watched a pair of films featuring iconic names, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Ha! I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong although one of the movies is monstrously awful. Both turned out to be locked room mysteries.

Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

This Karloff film is clever if you forgive a kind of police stereotype and the fact K
arloff isn't Chinese, but it tied in with America's on-going fascination with the Orient.

I found myself smiling at a particular 'trope' (for lack of a better word), but discovered the plot hinges upon it. Given that wrinkle, the story turns out to be surprisingly satisfying. If you haven't seen it, it's worth watching.

As much as I like and recommend this film, I'll talk about another with a major failing.

Murder by Television (1938)

In contrast, the Lugosi flick was surprising awful. Bela himself seems resigned to struggling through the movie trying not to tatter his reputation.

What's not to like? It contains everything: corporate intrigue, high tech toys, a musical number, comic moments, and an imbecilic dénouement. Er, but wait, there's more: A half-hearted romantic flame flickers, sputters, and almost dies. Did they forget anything?

Movies in Black & White

The best part of Murder by Television was the cook, Hattie McDaniel, who stole the show with her gentle humor. I heard she sang in this film, though how and why remains a mystery– often films slipped in musical numbers on the flimsiest of excuses.

When I saw no singing, I shrugged it off until I came across a note in IMdb that suggested this particular print may have been intended for the Deep South and deliberately omitted the scene.

What a shame. I can't imagine why Miss Hattie singing would have offended Southern sensibilities, so I'm still mystified if she sang in the film and if it was subsequently deleted. If you know details, share them in the comments. Meanwhile, back in the studio…

Television in 1935

A character in the film makes this prediction: "Television is the greatest step forward we have yet made in the preservation of humanity. It will make … a paradise we have always envisioned but never seen."

Presumably they were thinking of Dancing with the Stars and not Jerry Springer or 'rasslin' (which can be synonymous).

In the early years, television was a hot topic in radio enthusiast magazines. Numerous technical contributions from around the world– Russia, France, Mexico, Hungary, Scotland, the UK and US– led to an explosion of television invention in the mid-1920s.

By 1928, General Electric began experimental transmission from two stations in Schenectady and New York City, the figure of Felix the Cat rotating on a turntable. The Great Depression may have devastated the working man, but technical development continued.

Murder by Television was released in 1935 at a moment when the exciting possibilities of TV appeared poised on the threshold. The following year, Germany would broadcast the Olympic games from Berlin and Leipzig and by November, the BBC tele-vising group would begin the world's first public regular 'high definition' transmission from the Alexandra Palace in London.

In that context, the underpinnings of Murder by Television weren't out of place. The value of the props– actual experimental television on loan– was $75,000 for a film budgeted at $35,000. For those familiar with competing technologies, a close look reveals the mechanical rotating aperture that was one thrust of development at the time.

Reel Problem (spoiler)

Professional Tip
First clue when writing a tech thriller: look up interstellar in the dictionary. Hey, I told you the plot was bad!
Most mystery writers go to a great deal of trouble to make the means of crimes realistic. We don't like deus ex machina or too much contrivance and this is where Murder by Television fails.

I won't reveal the howdunit of Mr. Wong, but I'll spare you the drudgery of Murder by Television, not the who, but the how. (Trust me: The movie will gel your mind and you'll forget I told you.) The inventor was murdered by– are you ready– "the interstellar frequency death ray". Verily, I say unto you.

A Noir Treat

From my CB files, I tender this little noir film from the Bristol band Portishead, which perfectly captures the tone and mood of a late 60s spy film. Like many noir films, it's more ambience than logic, but it's satisfying. Fortunately Beth Gibbons doesn't sing until the closing credits, leaving the viewer with a mellow Ipcress File melancholy. Granted she's not so bad here or in Catch the Tear as other tracks that cause one to wonder why so many bands have their Yoko Ono.

Waging Love in Ink

by Dixon Hill

y column is a little different (and perhaps a bit more light-hearted than usual), today.

But, I thought you might get a kick out of it.

Valentine's Day is coming up, and I’d like to submit this as a salute to the pending Lover’s Holiday, coupled with my own wedding anniversary on February 18th. (I blew the date, over the prior weekend, while speaking to my wife, incidentally. And, stubborn woman that she is, she’s unwilling to grant me any brownie points because the 18th and the 28th — the day I mistook for our anniversary — both end in 8. My claim? Hey! I got the eight right, honey!)

Before I get to the fun stuff, however, I need to take about ten paragraphs of your reading time to explain something about what you’re going to read.

My mom was what she called “A Creative Writer.”

She defined Creative Writing as: “Fiction wrapped around a kernel of truth,” if I correctly recall the phrase. And, I heard this definition often enough, during my childhood, that—though I may have gotten the specific wording wrong—there’s no need to worry: I’ve definitely captured her intent.

That definition didn’t bother me, until I got older and undertook to earn a Poli-Sci degree I never finished. (As I used to quip to my army buddies: “I wound up in uniform, because -- having earned a sum total of thirty-three credit hours during my three years and two summer sessions at Arizona State, in my teens -- I felt moved to take an extended sabbatical, in order to give my professors a chance to mature.”) After completing my army adventures, I went back to school to become an engineer, which is how I wound up earning a J-school degree—because I wanted to write fiction: Clear evidence that “The Army Way” of doing things had been indelibly embedded in my neural pathways! And, during all this time, the unannounced mixing of fact and fiction (or opinion) in supposedly non-fiction articles and stories began to chafe against my grain.

Today, I probably write what my late mother would have termed: “Creative Writing.” And, in fact, concerning one of my stories, she said, “I like this a lot, but I don’t understand why you call it fiction.”

I told her: “Creative differences, Mom,” and left it at that.

In my stories, I work to render most of that ‘kernel of truth’ down to an ethereal point, where it (hopefully) transforms into theme, while sprinkling the uncooked “reserved portion” atop the finished product (like a garnish) to add verisimilitude. This, at least, is what I tell myself.

What I don’t call it, is anything but: FICTION.

To me, if any small part of a story is made-up or embellished, the label Non-Fiction must be removed and traded-in for a label clearly reading Fiction. If a writer’s opinion is added to a story, through direct comment or via manipulative voice, I want to see that story clearly labeled too. In this case: Opinion or News Analysis works for me—either one provides a clear heads-up. And, I’ve written these introductory paragraphs to give you just that very sort of “heads-up.”

While I may embellish slightly, making my wife sound snarky, or Leigh Lundin a cruel taskmaster, I try to stick pretty close to the truth in my posts. The piece below, however, was written several years ago, when I was a student in Dr. Christine Ferguson’s Magazine Article-Writing class at Scottsdale Community College. The assignment was to write a Service Piece—a short article explaining where one might find a good deal on stemware, for instance. Or pens, as in this case.

At the time, however, my concerns about mixing fiction and fact hadn’t fully gelled. Consequently, the story below is just that -- a mix of fact and fiction, what my mom would have called "Creative Writing." Pasquale Pagliuca (Puh-squal-lee Pag-lee-oo-ka) was a real guy, whom my buddies in the cigar store turned me onto. Pens International was a real store, though sadly Pasquale has passed away and I think the store is gone now. The throwing and catching of the book happened as described in the article, but the college girlfriend part is all bunk. And, contrary to what you may read, I wound up in Pasquale's store, as a class exercise, to interview him about expensive pens—an interest of mine, which I don’t have the money to call “a hobby.”

I had a hard time finding my way into the story, until I lit upon a fictional vehicle, which I envisioned as being the type of thing I had run across in GQ. I never tried to sell it anywhere; it was a class assignment, and not the sort of thing I usually do. But folks seem to get a romantic kick out of it, for some reason—so I thought I’d put it here.

Finally: In addition to saluting the upcoming two “Dates of Amour” — I’d also like to submit today’s column in tribute to Dr. Ferguson, and SCC Professor Dan Braezeale (now retired). Between the two of them, their inspired teaching (Journalism and Fiction Writing, respectively) led me to realize my brain didn’t want to spend the rest of its life doing engineer work. To that end, I’ve left the story as I found it in my computer—no reworking it. And, so . . .

(Rod Serling’s voice says) Submitted for your approval:

Waging Love in Ink
By Dixon Hill

Women did this to me! A college girl friend started it when I wrote her a love letter, using a ballpoint pen. I thought I’d never hear the end of it!

So I wrote her, using a calligraphy pen. My letters looped, swirled, and danced. The capital P stood poised on a razor’s edge, gradually widening like a stiletto. And the part of the P that bulged could only be described as—burgeoning!

Her eyes widened as she read it. A small pink tongue darted out, wetting her lips. Her bosom began to heave! The next morning, sneaking from her dorm room, I knew I had discovered the secret weapon in the war of love. I have since wielded that weapon on numerous occasions, and have never failed to vanquish my opponent.

After getting married, I let the weapon rust. The war was over. Both sides had declared a victorious cease fire at the wedding. Or so I thought. When my wife read last year’s Valentine’s card, written in ballpoint, I could see that I had made a grievous error in judgment. What I had thought would be an ever-lasting peace, was armistice at best.

I should have done what I did in college, and bought a Schaeffer calligraphy set, with the pen, three nibs, and four ink cartridges—all for fifteen bucks—and had done with it. But no! I had to have something special—like a Cobalt Bomb versus the puny thing we dropped on Hiroshima—that sort of pen.

And that’s how I wound up getting my ass kicked in a battle of wits with Pasquale P. Pagliuca. He owns Pens International. I called up and left a message explaining my quest. Pasquale invited me in—and the fight was on!

To prepare, I read an entire book: A History of Calligraphy by Albertine Gaur. Here, I learned that Egyptians made the first pens, the Greeks developed the first nib, and that while the quill was used in the West, Arabs used reeds aged in fermented manure. Then I poured over articles from Forbes, The Office, US News, and The New York Times. I even blew the dust off of such voluminous tomes as: Encyclopedia of American Industries, Second Edition; and Market Share Reporter 1999. I learned that Eisenhower and Macarthur used Parker pens to sign the surrender documents at the end of World War II, and that Bill Gates bought a pen that may have been Tolstoy’s. In short—I became an expert!

I sped to Pens International. Swaggering through the glass and steel doors of the modern high rise, I spotted my opponent in his small shop. His fifty-five year old bulk was enveloped in a blue oxford, dark pants, and sandals. Topped by woolly gray hair, and ensconced in a green leather chair, he looked like a Mafia kingpin on his day off.

“This is going to be a push-over,” I thought, walking in. But, oh! he was crafty. He started off by suckering me.

Rubbing his arthritic hands, he sighed, “Old age ain’t for wimps, kid.” I hadn’t been called a kid in twenty years. But if a centenarian hobbled in, Pasquale would probably bellow, “Have a seat, young man!”

He strikes without warning. Saying he’s got to straighten me out fast, he launches into a diatribe, claiming that ink color and paper type are as important to love letters as the type of fountain pen used. He throws a book at my head. I catch it, inches in front of my nose. The title reads: The Gift of a Letter. Realizing that—in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny—“This means WAR!” I wade into the fray, experts facts blazing from my mouth with a machine gun staccato!

Pasquale counters with a flank attack, saying he could write a love letter with any fountain pen. Particularly, “with either one of these two pens. It depends on my mood . . . each one has a different colored ink.” Damnit! He’s made it back to ink type, again!

I’ve got to get my hands on one of those pens! He may say he’ll use any fountain pen, but none of his cost less than a grand. And I’m dying to write virtual ink mushroom clouds, which will vaporize any mental chastity belt my wife may have! Sensing my weakness, Pasquale begins a fifth column action, designed to destroy my will to fight.

He unclips a Cristoforo Colombo II from his pocket. The only briar wood pen made, it retails for around $1500. My eyes capture the beautiful grain patterns of the briar—the same wood used to make pipes. “There’s something about briar wood in your hand,” Pasquale intones. “It’s such a nice, sensual, warm experience.” He slides a pad of parchment across the desk, saying, “Take it for a test drive.”

The feel of warm wood, the nib scratching over paper while the ink glides fluidly out, ignites my senses. My knees go weak. Good Lord! What would this do to my wife?

Pressing his advantage, Pasquale hands over a $1000 OMAS Celluloid, telling me that OMAS is an Italian acronym for: From the Workbench of Armando Simoni. With Svengali overtones, he encourages me to, “Sit back. Just get comfortable.” I feel my defenses crumbling.

He hands me a silver pen filled with an ink mix of King’s Gold by Schaefer, and OMAS’s Sepia. “Check this color out. Can you imagine somebody opening up your letter, with a gold hand-painted border, and reading that?”

I surrender!

I spend the next two hours being educated by Pasquale. He surprises me by saying that he used to love Mont Blanc, but since the company has changed hands, “I wouldn’t sell one to anybody I liked.” He tells me the Pelican 1000 is a “World Class Pen” for around $500, and the Caran D’Ach is an excellent pen for $150, while the $100 Colibri Scribe is really, “three pens in one: a fountain pen, roller ball, and a ball point.”

At the end I wander dazedly out the door. Phrases like “iridium tip”, and “rhodium mask” ricochet through my brain. I clutch my purchase to my heart—the model I bought is classified: TOP SECRET, only Pasquale knows for sure. I make my way to a Crane and Company stationery store; Pasquale has praised their cotton paper until I have to have it, or die.

After that I headed for home. I have my new weapon—locked and loaded, ready to fire! When my wife arrives home from work she’ll be impaled by the full thrust of my new rapier.


See, Mom? I really was listening to what you said about writing, all those years.


See you guys in two weeks! And, Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

09 February 2012

Right Under Our Noses

by Deborah Elliott-Upton
Mysteries of life surround us. Where there is something evil going on, something good is also flourishing. The idea of seeing what you want to see (half-empty glasses or half-full) has always
been up to the interpreter, but what is going on right under our noses isn’t always so easy to detect.

Sometimes I wonder what’s really going on out there. I know the truth is out there, but am I missing it just because I’m too busy to see? If you haven’t looked through an I SPY book lately, do
yourself a favor and find a kid who owns a copy, or go to a bookstore or library and find one to skim through. Only you won’t skim through. They are quite intoxicating. All those hidden- in- plain-sight things make a mind that enjoys mysteries wander. Considering Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” suggests there is much to be discovered right under our noses.

Over the years there have been many serial killers who lived seemingly normal lives right under the noses of those around them without any real hint they were committing heinous crimes.

Dennis Lynn Rader murdered ten people in the Wichita, Kansas area between 1974 and 1991.
His modus operandi was to bind, torture, and kill and rendered his nickname as the BTK Killer. Rader was viewed by many as a normal neighbor who ranted about a few things, but who didn’t?
Rader had earned an associate’s degree in Electronics and a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice. He’d earned a living as a home security installer, a census field operations supervisor, and a dog
catcher. He had spent four years in the United States Air Force. He was a member of a church and elected president of the Congregation Council, a Cub Scout leader, father of two and married to his wife for 34 years before his arrest.

Right under our noses and yet he murdered ten people before he was discovered.

Is the truth really out and we aren’t paying enough attention to discover it?

The son of one of our neighbors told me he was terrific at snowboarding. Our area isnot known for snow and the child claiming this was five, so I doubted what he said. The truth was he was great at snowboarding on his Wii game. He actually believed he could hit the slopes on a snowboard and be a professional. BUT, he was five years old. As mystery readers and NCIS junkies, we think we could figure out a serial killer before the police and we don't have innocence of youth in our corner as a defense.

One of my writing buddies who is a retired police officer from Colorado said most of us believe because we watch CSI that we know as much as the detectives and could warrant a decision as to who is guilty and why if we were privy to the information found at a crime scene and especially if we’d had the opportunity
to know the profile of the perpetrator. In real life, it doesn’t always work that way. That’s why shocked neighbors living next door to a killer for decades are always remarking to the press, “He seemed like such a nice guy. I had no idea he could do such a thing.”

Being a mystery writer is much easier than being in the trenches catching real killers. In our stories we develop the pace and decide how he will be caught. In the real world, there also is detecting, but often the ego of the killer also plays a hefty part. The BTK killer taunted police with letters which helped lead to
his eventual capture.

Luck sometimes plays a big hand in the apprehension and in those escaping becoming a victim. The
BTK killer had planned to strike again and actually stalked a woman and laid wait for her in her home for hours while she visited with friends. Angered when she didn’t return home on time, he left frustrated. Being with friends and staying late saved the woman’s life.

Dare we pay more attention to our neighbors and new co-workers with an inquiring mind? Perhaps, but maybe catching real criminals should be left in better hands of the professionals.

As for me, I will continue to plot my own fictional crimes and capture the bad guys on paper. I will enjoy reading other’s works and try my hand at mentally figuring out who did it and why. I will pay more attention to those around me in real life. I will probably visit longer with friends because it could someday save someone’s life.

That doesn’t mean to say I am giving up on still-great eye candy Mark Harmon and his exploits via the small screen. I think he’s doing a wonderful job heading up the NCIS due to the writers’ wonderful job tying up all those loose ends right under our noses.

08 February 2012

Polar Readings

by Neil Schofield

I bin ill. For almost the whole of last month. January largely passed in a sort of blur. So apart from anything else my Sleuthreading has been pretty patchy. I just caught the end of the David Dean celebrations, but didn't have the wit or the time to add my Congratulations David!
I knew that story was a winner when I first read it last June.

I'm no good at being ill. It happens very very rarely, despite the fact that I lack a spleen, mine having been confiscated following a multi-car road accident in the 80's. Spleens are apparently supposed to produce the cells that fight infections. Where are all the spleens when you need one?
When I was young, being ill was frowned on. The traditional remedy was for my nearest and daftest to gather round my bed and intone the age-old Yorkshire incantation: "Gerrup out of that, yer lazy, leadswinging little whelp". This worked like a charm, which I suppose it was.
So I'm not one for being cossetted. I prefer the old dog method: retire to a corner, lick your wounds and if you don't die, then that means you're better.
I have a feeling that it was catching, too, because days after I went down, my printer-scanner went belly-up, and the toaster exploded. Let me tell you that a crumb of baguette has the stopping power of a 9mm round.

Cossetting is out, but I do need comforts, and my favorite is Comfort Reading. I mean reading familiar books that you know and love and which require little or no effort from a spinning brain. This month I turned to the French for comfort.

The French Have a Word For It

And the word is 'Polar' which is a short form of 'Roman Policier', and covers all crime fiction, detective fiction and mystery fiction which makes it a useful word. We have no equivalent it seems to me. Polar covers everything up to the Thriller category, which the French maddeningly call un Thriller.

The French are pretty good at crime fiction. When I was first in France, to acquire and expand a vocabulary I read everything I could get my hands on. I read the seven volumes of Les Rois Maudits which tells from a French perspective the story behind the Hundred Years' War, although stopping well short of admitting that, really, France today is rightfully part of England.
And then I started on crime fiction. The first man I read was an interesting character called Leo Mallet. Mallet was a surrealist and anarchist, and engaged in the usual series of bizarre jobs, before he was invited to go to Germany in 1941 to becomes a slave labourer. He quickly accepted because the invitation was delivered by a Sturmbannfuhrer backed up by a couple of Schmeissers. When he came back to Paris, he re-started writing. Pre-war he had enjoyed parodying Anglo-Saxon crime fiction and in 1942 he turned out his first crime fiction, 120, Rue de la Gare. After the war, he continued, and, according to some critics, helpd to  transform French crime fiction. His main character, Nestor Burma, was a private detective, disabused and cynical, with a secretary called Helène and a sidekick/helper called Zavatter who burgles on the side. Oh yes, and there's a peppery police commissaire called Florimond Faroux. The set-up sounds familiar, don't it, but it was a breath of fresh air to the French. He went on to write a long series of novels around Nestor Burma all set in the mean streets of Paris, including a sub-series calle Les Nouvelles Mystères de Paris, where each novel centres on a different arrondissement of Paris.

I'm afraid that Nestor Burma was never translated, but the stories are worth learning French for. For me, it's almost as good as re-reading Sherlock Holmes: I know the destination, but I know I'm going to enjoy the journey.

My other favorite has been translated and then some.
Sebastien Japrisot, (which is an anagram of his real monicker, Jean-Baptiste Rossi) started in the early 60s as a translator, of Hopalong Cassidy stories oddly enough. He also translated The Catcher in the Rye and The Trouble With Harry.  His change of direction, along with a change of name came with a murder mystery called Compartiment Tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders in the English version). The film adaptation of this book  was Cost-Gavras's first film and starred Yves Montand. His best book, at least to my mind, was his third,  La Dame Dans L'Auto Avec Des Lunettes Et Un Fusil - The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun, for which Japrisot trousered a Golden Dagger in 1966. If you can get hold of a copy, read it. It's one of the best-made crime novels I've read. The plot is beautifully constructed, flawless and diabolic.

Japrisot's ouput over 40 years was not enormous. He wrote a number of screenplays (a couple of which ended up starring Charles Bronson) and a handful of novels, but he is one of the best and most literate French crime writers I've ever come across. His last novel was set in the 1914-18 war and is a love story which turns into a detective story. It became the film A Very Long Engagement which collared the 2005 Edgar for Best Screenplay.
You can find his novels in translation on Amazon. Used copies cost pennies. Highly recommended.

Snow has now fallen, the whole country is in chaos, and I'm going out now to chop some logs for the fire. So I must be better, mustn't I.

07 February 2012

Mind Control

I've just finished the draft of a story (a first draft according to my editors, the Professor and, his sister, Bridgid, that is. They both assure me that it is far from submission-ready.). This unpolished gem is rather loosely based on the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army of the roaring seventies. I'm too young to actually remember them, of course, but I have made something of a study of their antics. As you may know, they hit their high note with the kidnapping of newspaper heiress, Patricia Hearst–a strike directly at the heart of the "fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people"–soaring and repetitive hyberbole was the stardard for radical groups of this era. The kidnapping, in of itself, would not have made the episode so distinctive, rather it was the completely unexpected events that followed that set the nation on its ear: Patty Hearst appeared to morph from helpless victim of a rather terrifyingly single-minded group of self-styled revolutionaries into a full-fledged, gun-toting (and shooting) member! It appeared to be a near incomprehensible evolution. Cries of Stockholm Syndrome rent the highly-charged air!

 The SLA was not much of an army, as it turned out, though they claimed repeatedly to be operating cells nation-wide. In fact, the army that kidnapped Patty consisted of eight people. The only 'cell' they were operating was located in a California prison block where their other two members unhappily resided. These two were serving time for the murder of a school superintendent who had been deemed racist by SLA's revolutionary 'court of justice'. Apparently, actual trials of the accused were not required in their brave new world. They killed his aide, too. The victims were black men that were widely liked and respected in the Oakland, California community. This may you give you some inkling of the SLA's philosophy–possibly too subtle for most of us to comprehend.

The SLA sans Patty
The group that kidnapped, and subsequently "brain-washed" Patty Hearst was made up of three men, two white, one black, and five women–all white. Patty made six; and she was also white. Their leader was the sole black member who went by the assumed name, Cinque ( pronounced 'Sin-kay'), and wore the impressive title, Field Marshal. All of the group adopted what they purported to be African names; their avowed purpose being the destruction of racist, capitalist, fascist, Amerikkka. Yes, that's how they both spelled it and pronounced it. Whatever you may think of this group and its aims, they were certainly a conflicted knot of humanity. Bank robbing came next.

The heist at the Hibernia was well-planned, if not executed. While liberating money from the corporate oppressor they managed to shoot and kill two unarmed people. Everything was captured on the film of the security cameras–including the newest addition to the guerrillas ranks–Patricia Hearst. Wielding a sawed-off M-1 (the rest carried an assortment of automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns) she announced her identity, purpose, and new-found solidarity with the cause of oppressed peoples as championed by the SLA! A legend was born. Patty Hearst was now Tania. This being the moniker of a female revolutionary who died with Che Guevara in Bolivia. Curiouser and curiouser–Alice had certainly stepped through the looking-glass.

Tania (Patricia Hearst)
Fleeing from the intensifying heat they had generated in the San Francisco area, the gang headed south to hole up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton. This would turn out to be mistake. After fortifying a small house in this predominantly black, and poor, neighborhood, it appeared some neighbors took note of this sudden influx of heavily armed white people. Took note and grew alarmed despite the SLA's assurances that they were, in fact, there to protect and liberate them. It seems that some did not want the kind of liberation they deduced might be in store for these guerrillas.

Oblivious to these concerns, Tania (Patty), in the company of William and Emily Harris (Now known as Yolanda and Teko… say what?) set out to buy some supplies for their new household. This did not go well. While in the store, Revolutionary Teko decided to liberate some sweat socks that he was in sore need of. Why he did this when they had the requisite cash (Hibernia Bank job, remember?) will never be fully understood by the bourgeois mind. A security officer employed at the store attempted to uphold the reactionary status quo, and a struggle ensued with Teko. Yolanda joined in. Tania, having been left in the van parked out front, became alarmed when she saw that her revolutionary brother and sister were in dire straits. She reacted quickly and decisively by opening fire on the front of the store with a machine gun. This did have the effect of inducing a sense of despair in the security officer, and he chose the better part of valor at this juncture. The dynamic people's soldiers rushed out to freedom and Sister Tania.

In something of a panic now due to the attention they had drawn upon themselves, the rest of the evening and next several days was spent stealing and switching cars. The descriptions of all three were instantly recognized and the L.A.P.D. now knew that the feared SLA was in their town. This was to have repercussions for the folks back at the ranch(er).

As word circulated through the media and the Compton neighbors realized exactly who the new folks on the block were, a few discrete calls were made. So, while Tania and crew tooled around L.A., the FBI and police gathered their forces and laid siege to Cinque's band of not-so-merry pranksters. Though they were repeatedly offered the chance to surrender, this had never been in their plans according to Patricia's 1982 autobiography. A fierce firefight ensued, mostly fought with fully automatic weapons. Tear gas and smoke bombs fired into the house by the police resulted in the building catching fire. This in turn began to set off the crates of ammunition and bomb-making material within. No SLA member offered to surrender and none survived. The house burned down around them.

Tania during Hibernia Heist
The three remaining, at-large, members (including Tania) made themselves scarce upon hearing the news, and went on to reconstitute the SLA with new members, succeed in robbing another bank (during which Yolanda killed a perfectly innocent wife and mother with a shogun blast), and bomb a police car. In the fullness of time, they were at last apprehended and brought to trial. Tania (now Patricia Hearst once more) became the focal point of public, judicial, and political interest: was she a willing participant, or a helplessly brain-washed victim of terrorists? Theories abounded; talking heads chattered.

As for the jury handed her case– they weren't buying it. In spite of her attorney's attempts (a rambling, and almost incomprehensible F. Lee Baily) at convincing the jury that his client was simply another victim of the SLA, they just weren't having it. They found her guilty of robbery and assault and she was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. President Jimmy Carter foiled all this with an order of Executive Clemency after only two years served.

I must admit, that during these amazing chain of events (okay, I am old enough to remember–and a lot more besides) I was of the opinion that the jury got it right. Okay, the bad guys kept her in a closet (and not the walk-in kind) for seven weeks while blasting soul music at her day and night; but what's not to like about Otis Redding; James Brown? I'll also grant that being forced to listen to lectures on her political responsibility for the world's ills (largely because her father was what we now call a one per center) would try the patience of a saint. But joining up? To me, it just didn't add up.

Yet, we have the Stockholm Syndrome advocates. The general theory grew out of a bank robbery gone wrong in (you guessed it) Stockholm, Sweden. The robbers, foiled in their attempt to escape the bank with their loot took hostages. The police went to work trying to negotiate their release. The entire episode dragged on for days (or was it weeks? ) when lo, and behold, the hostages began to take up for their captors, complaining of their treatment by the forces of law and order. Some even went further, justifying the robbers' actions and blaming the police for the entire situation… including the robbery.

Still, in my mind, I'm thinking that's a long way from a hostage taking one of the bad guy's guns and opening fire on the home team. But, remember, Patty's ordeal was far longer and more intense than that of the Swedes: she was subjected to sleep, sensory, and food deprivation, constant threats to her life and that of her family, she was raped. A young woman in her very early twenties, brought up in a devoutly Catholic household amidst private schools and a close family network. Still, I'm thinking…

There's certainly a school of thought regarding behavior modification (Pavlov and his drooling dogs, etc… ) that argues a person's mind can be controlled through various methods. Naturally, as a writer, my own mind leaps to "The Manchurian Candidate"; "A Clockwork Orange". But wait, the would-be zombie hit man of the former defies his programmer in the end; foiling her plans rather decisively. As for the latter fictional example, Alex is not really changed at all, is he? Only his responses are; his violent yearnings remain (in the novel, not the film) forever unsatisfied, and he a clockwork organism pining for better; bloodier, days. Could this have been Patty during her Tania days? Was she acting as programmed while wistfully recalling the peaceful days of her 'other', lost life?

Her autobiography, "Every Secret Thing" would lead one to think so. I read it with a jaundiced eye, indeed. But, I must admit that she did manage to convey the pervasive sense of terror she endured during the initial weeks of her captivity. I thought of my own daughters in such circumstances… then quit thinking about it fast. What wouldn't you do to stay alive?

Ironically, according to Patty, the SLA crew, after granting her membership status (a propaganda coup dreamed up by the Field Marshal), repeatedly asked if she was doing so out of her own free will. This after seven weeks in a closet, blindfolded, threatened and raped. Well, they were liberators, remember, and had an image to consider. Additionally, they drilled nearly everyday for the final showdown with the "pigs" that they were convinced was going to happen. It was made clear to Patty that surrender was not an option. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy; talk about ideal conditions for Stockholm Syndrome. Remember Jonestown, anyone?

Okay, so I started moving closer to Patty's version of things. If she was to be believed, then her circumstances appeared pretty compelling. But how do you explain the hardware store incident? Remember Teko's socks? Patty was left alone in the van while her captors were inside the store–she opened fire with a machine gun in order to facilitate their escape.

Why didn't she drive away while she had the best chance she'd been given up till that point? I just couldn't get my mind around it. Had they really, and truly, made her into a convert? Or was she right where she wanted to be? Was it a genuine conversion, or a programmed survival mode she could not cast off? A young woman with no particular political leanings is kidnapped, only to emerge a few monts later as a violent urban guerilla. Things that make you go… hmmmm.

I've got to admit… I'm a little stumped. In the final analysis, the more information I considered, the more I dithered on a definitive answer. The jury was charged with considering Patty's acts while in the company of the SLA and got it right: she did participate in armed and deadly robberies, kidnappings (I skipped over that part as gilding the lily), and the firing of an automatic weapon on the streets of L.A. She did do those things. Why she did them is still up for grabs thirty-seven years later. Her own book never makes the claim that she was successfully "brain-washed"; only that she was very successfully terrified into unquestioning obedience to her captors. What do you think?
JB (Julian Brendan– English teacher, editor)
with JJ (James Joyce– a Big Shot Writer)

The characters you see portrayed here were not members of the dreaded SLA, but the equally feared Professor (see first paragraph) and collegue on an outing in Dublin. I'll let you determine which is which. I've not found a suitable photo of his sister for the line-up, but am working on it.

06 February 2012

Clues and Conclusions

A few weeks ago, when Joe Paterno died three months after leaving his job, several news commentators remarked how often people who work into old age die fairly soon after quitting work. Clearly, the inference was that stopping work led to their deaths. I propose that many times, the cause and effect are reversed. Some people won’t stop until working is totally beyond their health and strength. Rather than retirement causing the decline, the person’s decline forces them to finally quit work.
Paterno doesn't exactly fit this scenario because he was fired and forced to leave his job. One announcer drew the conclusion that being fired from his position CAUSED his cancer. I don't believe that! Had Paterno not been involved in the Penn State scandal, he would have eventually grown too old, too tired, too ill and his physical condition would have forced retirement. I think that he would have held out until his demise was near. Regardless, my sympathies are with the Paterno family.

As readers, we don’t always accept the cause and effect situations in stories and books. As writers, we must remain aware that for cause and effect to work in plots, it must be genuinely a cause and effect situation.

A hundred years ago, when I was a college undergraduate, I learned a classic example of misinterpretation of cause and effect. Statistics showed that crime rates in New York City rocketed during summer months. The sale of ice cream rose significantly there during the hot months also. Therefore, can we conclude that eating ice cream makes people commit crimes?

Of course not! More probable is that hot weather (especially back before air conditioning became common) led to more people being out and about to commit crimes or that tempers flared more often when one is hot and uncomfortable. People who are miserably hot are shorter-tempered. People also ate more ice cream when the weather was hot. Increased crime and eating ice cream weren’t an example of cause and effect. They were both effects of the cause—in this case, hotter weather.
A similar lesson in logic is that if A is true and B is true, then C is true. Classic example is A – All dogs are mammals and B – All mammals are vertebrates, therefore C – All dogs are vertebrates. This is true.
Faulty reasoning example is A – All dogs are mammals and B – All mammals are vertebrates, then C – all vertebrates are dogs. Unfortunately, this kind of faulty reasoning sometimes shows up in mysteries, where we’re more familiar with calling cause and effect, as well as logic, clues and conclusions.

Here are three short mystery/brain teasers. No, I didn't create them. They remind me of those amazing flash fiction mysteries that John Floyd has in Women's World. I always try to solve John's before tipping the mag upside down to read the solution. These were emailed to me by my fantasy writer friend Nynaeve.

Study Carefully...the clues are so blatant you will be kicking
yourself if you miss them!

The answers are at the bottom but don't look until you are sure you have all three right
I missed one, but I won't tell you which it is because I'm embarrassed.)

Mystery one

A man was found murdered Sunday morning.
His wife immediately called the police.
The police questioned the wife and staff and got these answers:

The wife said she was sleeping.
The cook was preparing breakfast.
The gardener was gathering vegetables.
The maid was getting the mail.
The butler was polishing shoes in the pantry.

The police instantly arrested the murderer.
Who did it and how did they know?

Mystery two

A man walks into his bathroom and shoots himself right between the
eyes using a real gun with real bullets.

He walks out alive, with no blood anywhere and no, he didn't miss and
he wasn't Superman or any other crusader wearing a cape.

How did he do this?

Mystery three

Old Mr. Teddy was found dead in his study by Mr. Fiend.
Mr. Fiend recounted his dismal discovery to the police:

"I was walking by Mr. Teddy's house when I thought I would just pop in
for a visit. I noticed his study light was on and I decided to peek in
from the outside to see if he was in there.

There was frost on the window, so I had to wipe it away to see inside.
That is when I saw his body. So I kicked in the front door to confirm my
suspicions of foul play.

I called the police immediately afterward."

The officer immediately arrested Mr. Fiend for the murder of Mr.Teddy.

How did he know Mr. Fiend was lying?


1. It was the Maid. She said she was getting the mail but there is no
mail delivery on Sunday.

2. He shot his reflection in the bathroom mirror.

3. Frost forms inside of the window, not the outside. So Mr. Fiend
could not have wiped it off to discover Mr. Teddy's body.

How did you do? Did you get them all correct
Until we meet again. . . take care of YOU!

05 February 2012


by Leigh Lundin

Today is Superbowl Sunday, which means approximately half the North American population will be watching American football instead of reading our cogent articles. With that in mind, we turn our attention to bathroom humor. By that, I mean a 540 page book given me for Christmas called Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader, 23rd addition, published by BRI, the Bathroom Readers Institute. (Thanks, Sharon!) It carries a warning: This book may make you smarter than everyone you know.

I earlier touched on aptonyms, but the UJHDB Reader introduced me to 'retronyms'.

What is a retronym, you ask? Well, you didn't ask, but I have to maintain a word count.

A retronym is almost the opposite of a neologism. It's a new word or phrase used to describe an old term because it's been replaced by something new.

It might help to explain its opposite. For example, the mechanized improvement upon the archer's traditional bow was called the crossbow, and other variations became known as the recurved bow and the compound bow. When men dropped engines into carriages, the new inventions were called horseless carriages or motor cars to distinguish the new-fangled devices.

Simple, right? In the early 1900s, World War I wasn't called WW-I; rather people called it The Great War or with more hope than realism, the War to End All Wars. Sadly, the unthinkable happened again, and in the 1940s with World War II under way, the former Great War was redubbed World War I.

Similarly, prior to 1959, we had no need to refer to the 'contiguous' 48 states or the 'continental' US, because that would have been redundant. However, after the Sandwich Islands and Alaska became states, the terms came into existence.

Here are a baker's dozen, most from the aforementioned book:

acoustical guitar
1930s, needed to distinguish from the new electric guitar
broadcast TV
needed after satellite and cable TV
cloth diaper
1949, needed after disposable diapers
corn on the cob
1920s, needed after canned and frozen 'niblets'
field hockey
simply 'hockey' until invention of ice hockey
baseball renamed after introduction of softball
hard copy
1990s, distinguishes from digital copy
hardcover book
1930s, needed after paperbacks
land line
formerly phone line until advent of cell phones
organic farming
regular old farming until advent of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides
silent film
1920s, needed after the new talkies
snail mail
simply called 'mail' until the advent of eMail
vinyl record
originally 'record' until invention of the CD

Fill in additional retronyms below.

04 February 2012

Computers? They're Not My "Type"

NOTE: This week I've invited my friend Herschel Cozine to do a guest column. Some of you are already familiar with his work; Herschel's short stories and poems have appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Wolfmont Press's Toys for Tots anthologies, and many national children's magazines. He's also published a number of stories in Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full of Bullets, Untreed Reads, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-E, and others. His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award. Herschel lives with his wife in Santa Rosa, California, and often serves as my wise but unpaid advisor on literary matters. (Herschel, many thanks! Readers, I'll be back in two weeks.) -- John Floyd

I lived many years BC (Before Computers), and have issues that have yet to be resolved. And I am sure I am not alone; certainly my problem resonates with those in my age group.

Allow me to preface my remarks with an anecdote. I was born in an old Victorian house on Long Island, situated on 180 acres of mostly unimproved land. The house and grounds were owned by J. P. Grace, the multi-millionaire banker and businessman. Mr. Grace stipulated in his will that his estate could neither be sold nor subdivided, so it is still intact today. However, since his death many years ago, the grounds have been neglected by his heirs and have fallen into disrepair. The house and most of the buildings burned to the ground at various times over the years.

Recently I discovered that the local historical society had dispatched a team to map and explore the estate. They dug in the places where the structures had once stood, collecting and cataloguing the relics that they unearthed.

I wasn't prepared for this. How would you feel to discover that the house in which you were born was now an archeological dig site? Old. Very old.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I started writing before the age of computers (or digital clocks for that matter). The writers of the day used typewriters, carbon paper and onionskin paper for their file copies. For those of you too young to remember, carbon paper was not made from carbon, nor was the onionskin made from onions. And the typewriter was a clever device that one learned how to operate in high school. Basic. Easy to master. Uncomplicated. Like many inventions of that era (rumble seats, slide rules), it was too good to last.

The writers started by jotting their musings on foolscap, a legal pad, or whatever suited their needs. Then would come the simple, albeit arduous, task of typing it (using the aforementioned typewriter), onto a clean white sheet of stationery, together with a sheet of carbon paper and a sheet of onionskin. Naturally, mistakes were made. Thus the ever-present bottle of whiteout came to the rescue. A blob of that over the typo and the manuscript was good as new. Of course, the typo was forever preserved on the onionskin copy. But that was for one's file and not a big problem. Eventually the imaginative typewriter folks devised a ribbon that had a strip of whiteout incorporated in the ribbon. One simply positioned the platen so the offending typo was under the striker, typed the letter through the whiteout, and then replaced it with the proper letter. Life was beautiful!

Then the electric typewriter made its appearance. Prior to that the darkness of the letters varied with their position on the keyboard. For example, the letter "a" was usually fainter than a "g" or one of the inner letters because one struck the "a" key with his weaker finger. The electric typewriter took care of that problem as well as the one of capital letters that stood half a line above the rest of the word. Life was now even more beautiful.

Then came the typewriter with a memory. Up to ten lines of typing could be stored on the device so one could edit and correct before committing it to paper. Another ingenious work-saving innovation. It couldn't get any better than this.

Then--the computer! Life will never be the same.

My son had to convince me of the advantages of the computer over my clunky, outdated typewriter. Thus I was pulled into the twentieth century just before it in turn was pulled into the twenty-first. I still have the scars.

To begin with, my first computer informed me that I had performed an "illegal operation." I was appalled. I had never received so much as a parking ticket before. I pleaded with it to tell me what it was that I had done, promising never to do it again. But it just sat there, its cursor blinking at me accusingly.

I swore at it, threatened it. "I'm the intelligent one in this room. You are simply a collection of circuit boards and wires. If it weren't for me you would be languishing in some warehouse in Peking. Show some gratitude!"

No response except for the blinking cursor. To this day I don't know what I did wrong.

Thankfully, my present computer is not that judgmental. I no longer get that message.

But I digress. Since my main reason for getting a computer was to simplify and modernize my writing efforts, I removed my typewriter from the den and turned to the word program. Awesome!

I looked at the screen in bewilderment. The options, features, icons, and symbols boggled my mind. Before I could start writing I had choices to make. What font style: Courier, Gothic, Times New Roman, even fonts that printed in symbols resembling hieroglyphics. I settled on Times New Roman and moved on. Font size--from microscopic to billboard. Did I want bold, italics, underline? What color? Did I want headers or footers, indented paragraphs, right justified margins, single or double spacing? What size paper? How about columns? Graphs? Double spacing before or after paragraphs?

I was overwhelmed. I have a hard time deciding between "over easy" or "scrambled" when I eat out. "Panic" is a little too strong a word to define my mental state. But it will suffice for the purpose of this discussion.

By the time I had set up all the parameters I had forgotten what it was I had started out to write. I have reverted to jotting down the story on foolscap ahead of time. This is progress?

With some trepidation I began to write. Suddenly the font changed from Times New Roman to Lucida. What had I done? I later learned from my son that I had not set my defaults. (I thought that only happened to loans.)

I labored on, enduring the whims and peculiarities of the computer, finally reaching the end.

Having finished for the day, I was ready to save my work. This scenario followed:

Computer: Do you want to save this?

Me: I just went through three cups of coffee, two bathroom breaks, four and a half hours of typing, not to mention the ordeal you put me through. Of course I want to save it, you moron!

Computer: Where?

Me: Someplace where I can find it again. I am still looking for the last one which disappeared without a warning. I even called my computer-savvy son, who told me, "You must have hit the delete button," and then hung up. I suppose I would have done the same if I had been called out of an important meeting. But it seemed a bit rude. After all, I am his father.

Computer: What format? HTML, Doc, PDF, RTF, etc.

Me: UCLA, NASA, FBI, GOP. How the hell should I know? You're the expert. You decide.

I have no idea what format my document is in, nor do I care. All I ask is that it is where I stored it and that it is readable. (I recently opened a file to find nothing but rows and rows of symbols and punctuation marks that ran on for three pages.)

Needless to say, I am not a big fan of Bill Gates.

Of course, I understand that a computer is more than a glorified typewriter, and I should be taking advantage of its versatility. I try. I have 378 friends on Facebook, six of whom I have actually met. I am bombarded with crude jokes, tasteless photos, and messages concerning their bodily functions and sexual prowess. I don't spend a lot of time there.

Then, of course, there is e-mail. There was a time when I had to trudge out to the mailbox to get my junk mail. Now I have it delivered directly to my den. (I wonder if that poor man ever managed to get his money out of Nicaragua.)

Ah, but I am beginning to sound like my father. He was convinced that civilization as we know it would not survive the invention of television. Fate was kind to delay the invention of the computer until after he had passed away.

There is a group of men on Long Island who will unearth a rusted, scorched Underwood typewriter in the rubble of my old house. I wish I could be there when that happens. God, how I miss it!

03 February 2012

Why It's Sometimes Called Dope

Just so you know, we don't always run around trying to buy contraband. Sometimes, we offer to sell it to the other side. That's called a reverse. So, let's go back a few years and visit one of the closets in my memory.

There we were, sitting in the office, drinking coffee and catching up on paperwork. The Rule of Thumb is approximately eight hours of paperwork for every successful hour on the street. Even with the advent of computers, we killed a lot of trees.

Anyway, the office phone rings. It's U.S. Customs down in Florida. They've got three snuggler's trunks just arrived from Nepal. Seems Customs drilled the trunks and found all the trunk walls were lined on the inside with thin, flat packages of black hashish which was then covered over with thick decorative paper to make them look like part of the interior wall. The agents were getting ready to deliver one trunk to an address in Miami, but the other two were coming to a city in our Division. Would we like to do simultaneous deliveries? Oh, you bet.

On the designated day, my partner and I watch two trunks get delivered to a residence in our jurisdiction. We wait the guessed appropriate amount of time and then hit the house with a search warrant. Boy, was Mom surprised. She had no idea her Sonny Boy was involved in this kind of stuff. Last she'd heard, Sonny was back from Nepal and was visiting friends in Miami.

During the search warrant, we seize two trunks with drill holes in their exterior and hashish concealed inside their walls. We also recover two letters of intent to purchase from a couple of out of town buyers. Ah, time for me to drag out the bag of shadows and illusions. We're in business.

Attaching a rubber suction cup wire to my undercover phone (the other end plugs into my tape recorder), I telephone Intent to Purchase #1 in Nebraska and explain that Sonny Boy is currently busy in Florida, however he has conveniently appointed me to sell his recently arrived inventory. How many pounds would #1 care to purchase? I quote him the current price from a national underground magazine which any civilian can acquire from his local bookstore racks. He agrees to buy XX pounds of the product. I say I'll be in touch soon. Unfortunately, when I call him back hours later, #1 has suddenly relocated to an unknown location with no forwarding address. It appears that when Sonny Boy opened his smuggler trunk in Miami, he quickly detected the drill holes and thus hastily departed via the back door just before Customs crashed through the front. Sonny Boy was now in the wind, but must have taken a few minutes along the way to place a frantic phone call to Nebraska. That was one bird we wouldn't get.

My second call goes to Buyer #2 in Iowa. Yep, he would like to purchase several pounds of the black hashish. We agree on price, although truth be known, I'd have let him bargain me down even more. What do I care about alleged profit? It's not like the money will actually go into my pocket. I tell him I'll meet him at a certain time in a certain bar in Des Moines. He is to let me know what clothes he will be wearing so I can recognize him, and he is to sit at the bar so I can easily find him. The other side loves this paranoid spy stuff. The deal is set.

Because Des Moines comes under the jurisdiction of another office, I then call our Des Moines office and explain the situation. Would one of their agents like to play the part of a hash seller? Of course they would, it's like getting a free case to add to their quarterly statistics. Later, I hear how it went.

The undercover agent shows up at the designated bar. Buyer #2 is dressed as he said he would. They meet. The agent introduces himself using the undercover name I gave to #2 on the phone. First words out of Buyer #2's mouth are: "Man, your voice sounds different over the phone."

They rehash the price of hash and desired amount to ensure everyone agrees. They do. Buyer #2 has the purchase money stashed with a buddy out in a car in the parking lot. Conveniently, our alleged Seller (the undercover) has the correct amount of hashish with his own buddy (another federal agent) stashed out in a car in the same parking lot.

Buyer #2 insists on seeing the hashish before he produces the money. Wise move, could be a rip-off. Our alleged Seller insists on seeing the cash before they go any further. Our side also wants to ensure it isn't a rip-off. They compromise. Buyer #2 will go to the Seller's car to view the hashish while the Seller's Buddy will go to the other car to see the money.

In the Seller's car (a federal undercover vehicle), the Buyer is handed a wrapped package from a stack of packages in the back seat. Buyer #2 unwraps the package he is given and looks at the contents. Confusion crosses his face. "I thought you said it was black hash from Nepal," he blurts out.

Turns out that Blond Lebanese from an old closed out case was the only hashish the Des Moines office could get their hands on with such short notice for this street theater production. "Nah," says the undercover agent, "I told you on the phone that it was Blond Lebanese."
Now this is a bald faced lie because I definitely told Buyer #2 the stuff was black hashish, but then users of drugs tend to have memory problems from time to time so he let's it go.

Buyer#2 sniffs the brick he's holding and decides he can sell this stuff anyway. He signals his buddy in the other car to show the money. As soon as the second undercover agent sees the cash, guns come out. Buyer #2 and his accomplice are quickly arrested, plus all their money is seized along with their vehicle.

About this time, you're probably starting to wonder about that stack of alleged hashish packages in the back seat of the government vehicle. Well, once again because of short notice, the Des Moines office could only get their hands on one pound of Blond Lebanese Hash, so all the other packages were merely wrapped up telephone books to look good. As I mentioned in another blog, we tend to operate in an area of Blue Smoke and Mirrors.

So folks, when you look at all the signs which should have triggered #2's paranoia radar, you can see why this type of contraband is sometimes referred to as DOPE.

Have a good day.

02 February 2012

Lock Up Your Daughters

Mira Kolar-Brown
Mira Kolar-Brown
by Mira Kolar-Brown

Mira Kolar-Brown was born and educated in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslavia, where she graduated in English Language and Literature with post-graduate Business. She came to the UK in 1977 where she tutored at two universities and project managed for an NGO and a QUANGO, and now lives in the north-west of England. Upon early retirement, she has been working as a translator and interpreter for the public sector. This offers ample opportunities for research into the work of police, welfare system, courts, immigration and health organisations.

This first hand knowledge and experience proved invaluable in writing mystery novels, the Simon Grant Mysteries series, Hiding the Elephant and Lock Up Your Daughters, the latter title from which we've drawn another meaning for today's article.

Here's the talented Mira Kolar-Brown.

Hiding the Elephant Endrita

Author Sibel Hodge has written a book Trafficked: Dairy of a Sex Slave, a well researched, factual account of one young woman's journey through a new world of human trafficking.

Before we delve into that complex subject, let's go back to the beginning, back to our understanding and perceptions of the oldest profession in the world. We've all come across it, we've all seen men and women gathered at street corners at certain times and locations, waiting for customers, entering strange cars or disappearing behind buildings for ten minutes or so to render express service to those with little time and even less money. We also know that there are more upmarket forms of the old trade all the way up to designer wear and luxury hotels, caviar and champagne, and the box at Wimbledon, Covent Garden and Ascot.

And we lift our noses and gather our skirts around us and turn away in the knowledge that ours is a welfare state where no one needs to sell themselves to survive or feed their children.


Experience tells us that life is never a set of simple either or options.

I've mentioned the 'new world' of human trafficking even though there's nothing very new about the concept. It pre-dates the Roman Empire all the way back to the caves. What's new is the upsurge in the scale on which it's happening. With so many hotspots erupting all over the world throughout the past three decades, it has reached mind-boggling proportions and in the process it has pushed sex trade to new depths of horror.

I do not intend to go into details of what happens to men and women who fall victims to the trend. Several years ago, reports of girls and boys installed in premises condemned for human habitation, kept there with very little sustenance or breaks and made available for sex with a constant stream of paying clients until they're dead when they're replaced by a fresh asset, prompted several metropolitan police forces to start a counter-action and print leaflets in a variety of languages inviting victims to seek their protection. There was very little response. Some victims can't read, most of them are drugged to their eyeballs, and they're all scared stiff of what might happen to them and their families if they run away. But, more than anything else, the leaflets rarely reach the victims. What little response there'd been mostly came from clients.

There's a school of thought that none of the victims would have got caught in that trap if they or their families didn't have ideas above their station. Their decision to leave their homes and travel abroad to work in bars or as au pairs or cleaners is always based on the expectation of better earnings and higher standard of living.
Lock Up Your Daughters

As I've said, nothing is ever that simple.

After early retirement I've been freelancing as a translator and interpreter for the public sector. I've spent a lot of time in police custody suites, category A prisons, Immigration interview rooms and appeal hearing centres. I interpreted for people serving life sentences for genocide and for their victims. I also interpreted for a few young women seeking asylum after they were raped. In all instances, the rape itself was, for the lack of a better word - straightforward. The man or men forced the woman to have sex with them and left. Horrendous as those incidents were, the true horror came afterwards. Their families didn't want to know them any longer because the girls became soiled goods and brought shame on the family. In one instance, the male members of the girl's family believed that only honour killing would save their face in the community, so her mother and grandmother spirited her away. Their stories prepared me for the encounter with Endrita to some extent.

Endrita was born and grew up in Pristina, Kosovo, She came from a family of ethnic Albanians. Her father was a doctor, her mother was pharmacist and Endrita and her younger sister considered themselves destined for university education and independent, comfortable, modern living. But then came the '90s, the Balkan war, the fighting and the bombings, and their world changed forever. The parents were suddenly stripped of their role in the family and replaced by family/community elders and the revival of ancient values and way of life. The elders in Endrita's extended family clan were aware that none of their members had been particularly active on the Albanian nationalistic front, the fact that was threatening their safety and well-being in the new order. They concentrated on rectifying the position and one of the avenues to an improved status was to marry off the girls to people in power. As long as they had a few teenage virgins to trade in exchange for safety and profit, they were into a winner.

Endrita had a couple of problems with that plan. She was in love with Jak, a man of no power or consequence and therefore ineligible, and she wasn't a virgin. When she caught the eye and attentions of a senior police officer, the situation became very serious. Her parents, unwilling to see their daughter married to someone she didn't love and aware of the dire consequences for herself and everyone else in the family if she was found to be 'damaged', they sent the younger daughter to relatives in Croatia and put together whatever money they still had control over to send Endrita to the UK and Jak.

They liked Jak.

Everyone liked Jak.

Some ten years Endrita's senior, he'd entered the UK illegally a few months earlier, applied for asylum and worked in London bars, mixing mostly with models, fashion designers and PR agents. Life was great. Jak was going to secure the beautiful, tall and slim Endrita a few modelling contracts and they were going to get married just as soon as his immigration status was sorted out. In the meantime, there were the bright lights and London night life to enjoy. And drink, And drugs. Soft drugs, at first. Then the harder stuff. Then one or two or three photographers and agents expressed an interest in getting to know Endrita a bit better before offering her a modelling contract. Jak saw no harm in that. That was the way of the world that they lived in. Then Jak got arrested for drug dealing leaving Endrita in the hands of his best friend, the human trafficker and the owner of one of the establishments offering 24/7 sex.

Endrita became available for sex 24/7.

A couple of moths later a Mancunian on a trip to London availed himself of her services, took pity on her, brought her up north with him and helped her to apply for asylum.

There's no fit ending to this story. Interpreters rarely learn the outcome of individual cases. I don't know what's happened to Endrita.

At the time of her immigration interview she was drug-free.

That's something.

01 February 2012


by Robert Lopresti

Envelope by augenbuch
Envelope, a photo by augenbuch on Flickr.
The office wasn't much like I expected.  The building itself was shabby and worn out, but the office was brightly lit and neat as a pin.

She opened the door herself, a short woman with sharp eyes, short hair, and a white lab jacket. She had a slight accent; vaguely eastern European.  

We introduced ourselves and she said: "Did you bring it with you?"

I nodded and pulled it out of my jacket pocket.  She winced and I sensed that this was not a good beginning. "A plastic bag would have been better.  Your finger prints and bodily oils..."

I suddenly felt grubby.  I muttered an apology.

"No matter, no matter.  Put it here."

I grasped the envelope by one edge  careful too late, and placed it gently on the black metal surface of the table in the center of her office.  She picked up two large pairs of tweezers and expertly removed the letter in less time than it would have taken me with my ten clumsy fingers.

She unfolded it and laid it gently on the table, using small magnets to hold it flat. Satisfied, she turned to me.  "And you brought another?  From...happier days?"

I had.  I pulled it from my jacket and we repeated the whole exercise so that the two pages were lying side by side.

To my surprise she then backed away.  She frowned at the two pages, first one and then the other."

"I think--" I said.


"But you're looking at them upside down!"

She sighed, rather dramatically, I thought.

"I am perfectly aware of that.  But there is much to consider before we get to the text itself,  and the text is distracting.  May I continue?"

I nodded.  She continued to peer at the pages from different angles; and then pulled  a magnifying class from her jacket and moved in for a close examination.

"Interesting," she muttered.

"What is it?"

"The gentleman who sent these items... does he have any staff?"

"A part-time assistant, I think."

"Part-time.  That's not very helpful.  If the same person had sent both letters, it would be more conclusive."

"What would be?  What have you figured out?"

She gestured with the magnifying glass.  "The older letter has crisp and even folds.  The more recent one is sloppy." 

I was impressed.  I hadn't noticed the difference, in all the time I had stared at that page.  "What does that suggest?"

"If the same person prepared both letters then he was clearly in a different mood.  Calm and controlled when he folded the first, agitated when he did the second."

"Agitated?  You mean, upset?"  I thought that might explain a lot.

She shrugged.  "Upset, angry, frightened, in despair.  There is a limit to what we can tell from a fold.  The watermark is the same in both pages, by the way."

I was feeling both impressed and baffled.   "What does that tell us?"

"Alas, not much.  If the quality of the paper had diminished that would suggest a change of fortune, yes?  But, who knows?  Paper supplies may last after luck runs out."

Again she used the glass.  "Interesting.  Notice that in the older letter the block of text is perfectly centered.  Proper office format, which you don't see all that often these days."

"And the new letter?"

"The text is up toward the letterhead, while the bottom third of the page is empty.  That suggests the message was shorter than the typist expected it to be."

I puzzled over that.  "You mean, he meant to add something and changed his mind?"

"Possibly.  Or perhaps he wrote less than he usually does in such cases."

I didn't like that idea at all.  "What else?"

"Time to examine the text.  Hmm.   He addresses you the same in both letters.  The closing is the same as well.  This indicates that the man himself hasn't changed much, nor have his essential feelings about you."

"Then what gives? " I asked, losing patience.  "Why did the editor reject this story after buying my last few?"

She straightened up.  "Ah.  I think that is clear.  He didn't like it."

"Didn't like it!"

She nodded.  "He says so.  See?"

"I know he says so!  I was hoping you could tell me why he didn't like it!"

Another shrugged.  "Perhaps it wasn't very good?  Where you going?"

I shoved my rejection slip and acceptance letter  back into my pockets, not giving a damn about fingerprints and bodily oils.  "We're done here."

"But my fee-"

"Send me a bill."

She did.  I sent her a rejection slip.  Let's see her investigate that.