The Incoming Party

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The Incoming PartyThanks to Putin the cold war is heating up. Earlier this week a Russian-built surface to air missile blasted a civilian airliner from the sky, killing all 298 aboard. Now the saber-rattling has begun with eerie echoes of the show of sabers that resulted in the outbreak of World War One. That was in August 1914 – 100 years ago. I posted this article sometime back and its relevance to current events is obvious. Here’s the article:

There’s a community on this planet that’s been targeted by nuclear missiles countless times. The targeting isn’t a computer simulation or the conceptual paradigm of some faceless think-tank. The place I speak of is real, and if missiles are ever made ready to fly in Korea or the Middle East, residents of Kwajalein Atoll should be on the short-list of talk-show experts. I should know. I’m among the few who’ve lived there.

Kwajalein is an isolated chain of coral islands buried deep within the Central Pacific. It’s a genuine tropical paradise whose several islands possess exotic, wonderfully textured names, such as Omelek, Gagan and Illeginni. Coconut palms sway in balmy breezes and furiously blue, green and turquoise waters compete with talcum powder beaches for the eye’s favor. Tranquility runs rampant.

Kwajalein is all this and more; Kwajalein is also a target. The United States test-fires its ICBMs—Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles—at Kwaj, and the tracking and telemetry equipment that sprout from beneath the palms possess equally alien appellations—Altair and Tradex and Super Radot, among them.

The end of the Cold War supposedly meant freedom from nuclear death; all that has changed thanks to North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. But Kwajalein is an isolated lagoon, and isolation cushions the impact of current events. The tests command everyone’s attention, and discussions are matter-of-fact. Missions are routinely announced in the island paper. Warning, the announcements begin; a hazard area will be in effect in the lagoon’s mid-atoll corridor tonight due to incoming MIRVs. MIRVs—Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles—are the warheads, and up to ten of these City Busters can be packed into a single ICBM.  Just be sure to substitute dummy warheads for the real thing, and fire away.

Open the pod bay door, HAL.

On a battlefield soldiers yell, “Incoming!” to warn of inbound artillery. On Kwajalein however, the announcement of a mission means it’s time to form “incoming parties.” It means groups of five to fifteen lug ice chests and barbecue grills to the nearest beach; they snap open cans of beer as cooks slap hamburger patties down to sizzle. The talk is festive, and laughter mingles freely with the intoxicating blend of burgers and bougainvillea. The smiles on faces bronzed deep by the constant sun are radiant; the trades blow cool air across the parties. Day-glo Frisbees and tattered footballs fly between leaping youths. Giggly children chase each other as watchful parents keep sight of them

Daylight eventually capitulates to dusk, and as the time for the missile re-entry draws near the athletics, the banter and particularly the laughter fade away. It’s as if a Fourth of July crowd has grown silent in anticipation of that first cluster of iridescent reds, blues and shimmering golden spiders. The revelers search the sky.

Fourth of July crowds can see their rockets being launched, but Kwajalein’s rockets take off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, 5000 miles away. There is no whoosh, only an odd star NSA -1that suddenly appears seventy-five miles overhead among the constellations. With a heart stopping jolt it blossoms into a super-nova. The beach partiers watch raptly as the MIRVs streak toward their targets at more than 13,000 mph.

There are no “ooohs” or “ahhhs.”

The MIRVs race toward their targets with streaks of white-hot vapor trailing behind each. Three, four, five of them zip past, and all the natural similes are there I suppose—that an angry Thor has been roused from perpetual slumber, or that God Himself has thrust His hand into the great pickle barrel that we call the Pacific Ocean.

The MIRVs strike the lagoon with furious kinetic energy. Sometimes in their wake there is this—a murmuring sound, a desiccated sigh that travels across the lagoon on the backs of the trades. That noise is haunting. It is every freight train or crying child or howling wolf that leaps, fleetingly, from the recesses of our memories.

The whispers eventually fade. A tentative burst of applause is followed by scattered talk of nuclear blackmail. The crowds move away. Conversations are muted. Many in the crowd are withdrawn, their faces grim. Mothers and fathers hug their offspring with something more than simple tenderness; they seem to engulf their children as though their arms are protective shields. The gesture, born of instinct, is so inadequate. The children, too, are hushed. They neither laugh nor shout as they had moments earlier, but look to their parents for a reassurance that does not exist.

It is impossible not to think of T.S. Eliot:

. . . This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper . . .

The crowd disappears.  The party—this one at least—is over.

“Cobra Clearance”

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RPLAFinalistBADGEI’m proud to announce that my last thriller, Cobra Clearance, is now a finalist for the Royal Palm Literary Award. The prize will be announced on October 25, 2014. I’m also proud to add that my editor, Jean Jenkins, deserves the credit for getting me on that list of finalists. Thanks, J.J.!

“What’s Behind Door Number Two?”

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Door Number TwoTrue crime stories—many of us read ‘em, some write ‘em. In the April 2014 article about the missing Malaysia Air flight, I discussed the criminal investigator’s maxim that it’s always SOP to look behind all doors at a crime scene. There’s a body on the floor? Then the investigator better open that closet door which is near the body, because he or she never knows what they might discover behind it. This leads to the trial of Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. There’s been a lot of testimony and speculation about whether Pistorius murdered Reeva, or accidentally killed her while defending his home against an intruder. A big question mark hovers over his version, but in fact the answer has been there all along—and it’s all about that closed bathroom door.

Ah yes, that door. Locked from within by the victim while she used the facility. At least that’s his story—a part of it, anyway. Overall, Pistorius asserts that he was sleeping when he heard an intruder crashing through the bathroom window. He claims he didn’t know of Reeva’s presence in that bathroom, and in fear for his safety at the hands of an as-yet unseen criminal, he grabbed a pistol and began shooting through the closed door. Of course, it was only Reeva behind that closed and locked door, and she died from gunshot wounds from that hail of bullets.

The defendant’s story is plausible at face value. Except for one tiny detail; the question that’s not been asked; the point that none of the talking heads or investigators have raised. And the question is this: why would a woman who has been having intimate relations with a man who has no legs and would therefore not be all that prone to impulsively leave the bed—why would a woman in that situation feel the need to lock that bathroom door?

Come on—how many couples lock the bathroom door when they go inside to use the toilet? What would compel someone to seek such modesty in the wake of a long-term intimate relationship SIG Sauer P229with the only other person in the house? I can’t think of anyone who has ever expressed that need. Furthermore, the need to lock a bathroom door when that only other person in the house is asleep and has no legs should have raised any number of red flags.

That mainstay of philosophy, Occam’s Razor, argues that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. And in the final analysis, Reeva was not likely to lock that bathroom door unless she was in fear of physical harm. It’s just that simple—because Pistorius was attacking her. And that’s why she locked the door.

Target Stores – They’re Targeting Us

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Target LogoThis site is dedicated toward writing but there are times when it’s necessary and proper to stray from a baseline in order to hold a line against nonsense. This is one of those times.

On July 2, 2014, the CEO of Target Stores announced that “Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.” This applies even in places where people may lawfully carry concealed weapons. The decision follows protests organized by a gun control group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. In recent months they’ve convinced many other major American companies to take a stance on guns.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was quick to issue the following knee-jerk statement regarding Target’s new policy: “I am pleased that Target has announced its commitment to prioritize customer safety by asking guests not to bring firearms into Target stores. As noted in a letter to Target’s CEO last month after a loaded gun was found in the toy aisle of a South Carolina Target store, when policies are not in place to prohibit firearms in stores, everyone is at risk. Today’s announcement demonstrates a strong sense of responsibility by Target’s management, and follows the customer-friendly approach other companies, such as Starbucks and Chipotle, have taken to prohibit firearms in their establishments. The fight against gun violence in our communities isn’t something any one person or organization can take on alone. I applaud Target for the implementation of this policy, and encourage other retailers to follow their example. “I also want to recognize the advocates, consumers, and everyday citizens who pushed Target to ban guns in its stores. These advocates are working tirelessly to encourage Congress and private organizations to take a stand against gun violence, and I’m proud to stand with them every step of the way.”

This is all warm and fuzzy, but the Senator’s statement is so full of erroneous, impulsive demands for actions that it’s frightening. And while Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America might have good intentions, they’re thinking with their emotions and not with facts. In previous articles, I’ve pointed out that it’s not guns that are creating the violence in America. The reasons are far deeper than the existence of firearms, and by taking a popular stand rather than a leadership role, Senator Murphy has violated a sacred trust to act responsibly in his government post.

Yes, a loaded firearm was found in the children’s section of a Target store—a chain that features a target as its logo, by the way—and suddenly people are giving credence to that old saying, “When in doubt, run around and scream and shout.” But here’s the thing: nobody has pointed out the obvious—that responsible parents teach their children not to touch anything with a potential for danger—as parents once did before blaming others for problems became the norm.

If the good Senator from Connecticut is concerned about firearms left inside stores, should we then disarm all local, state and federal law enforcement officers, simply because some of them regularly leave issued firearms inside lavatory stalls in malls and even on aircraft? Yeah, it happens all the time, and using Senator Murphy’s knee-jerk logic, it makes sense to disarm all cops. Otherwise a child might find one of their unattended firearms.

Target doesn’t want customers to be lawfully armed in its stores. Yet one month ago in Las Vegas a young husband/wife team murdered two cops while they were eating lunch. Then they fled into a nearby Wal-Mart, where an armed customer tried to stop them but was killed as a result. Yeah, violent criminals are everywhere—and now they’ll be coming to a Target store near you. Yep, that store—the one with the prominent logo.

CEOs and U.S. Senators who push for policies not founded in fact resemble the extremists who made it more difficult to end the war in Vietnam with unqualified public statements. Here’s what Henry Kissinger said about this in his memoirs: “The old . . . Establishment thus abandoned its preeminent task, which is to contribute balanced judgment, long-term perspective, and thoughtful analysis to the public discussion of our international responsibility [to lead].” Kissinger adds, “As a result of this abdication, the so-called peace movement came to be driven by a relatively tiny group of radicals, whose public support in the country was close to nil.” Put another way, “That which is popular is not always right—and that which is right is not always popular.”

What is right? I’m not sure I have all the answers. But I do have nearly forty years of public safety experience. I’ve lived in a war zone. I hold a graduate degree in history. And nearly every law enforcement professional I know feels we should make it easier for people to lawfully carry weapons, not harder. That’s because we understand that there are too many nut-jobs, vicious criminals and terrorists out there who are quite willing to turn unarmed citizens into victims, and . . . there aren’t enough cops out there to stop them.

The bottom line is this: as a student of history I’m convinced that violence in America escalated around 1980 for reasons that have very little to do with the availability of guns. I’ve outlined my Boston Bombingtheories in recent postings and others are free to disagree. But what none of us are free to do is to avoid the problem. We have to man-up and face the fact that studying the problem and doing some soul-searching are key to ending today’s violence—a wave of violence that increasingly incorporates not guns, but home-made bombs and kitchen knives. But don’t go by my word—just ask any kid with access to the ‘net, and he or she can instantly pull-up how-to sites on bomb making—and they’ll do it in a New York second. Then they can reveal sites that cater to children and young adults, but advocate violence.

Today’s politically correct nonsense has got to stop. Men and women need to stand up and put an end to the misguided, ostrich-in-the-sand approach to curb violence that Senator Murphy has demonstrated. Otherwise, Target stores—and other politically correct businesses and groups—will turn you into someone’s target.

The Know Not’s

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EntitledIn an ideal world law enforcement personnel would always remain objective in all of their undertakings, both personal and professional. I’ve written previously that what separates great cops and excellent investigators from shoddy ones is the concept that there are always two sides to every story. Always. Sadly, this isn’t an ideal world and I’ve seen far too many people in law enforcement—sworn personnel and civilian employees alike—who’re incapable of grasping this, and they create conflict even within their own organizations. Of course, conflict drives a story, so here are some examples of these closed-minded personnel—“The Know Not’s.”

Know Not’s are everywhere. They live in our neighborhoods, ride buses and work as florists. They also stand in lines while loudly voicing opinions from one perspective only. CNN, Fox and MSNBC are populated by Know Not’s who engage in shout-outs with other guests. But Know Not’s are particularly anathema to law enforcement because they lead to miscues, misjudgments and mistakes that harm careers, relationships and lives.

Here’s an example. While on patrol one day the dispatcher sent me and another trooper to a hospital to investigate a report of child abuse. The other trooper and I arrived simultaneously and what a pair we were. Ralph is six feet six inches of SRM (Solid Rippling Muscle) while I’m short and lean. We went to the ER and a doctor led us to a partitioned area where a six-year old girl was laying unconscious on a gurney. Every inch of her body that would normally be covered by clothing was black and blue. The sight of this poor little girl understandably unnerved Ralph and me. Then the doctor directed us to a hallway where the girl’s parents were waiting.

We approached them. The wife was staring straight ahead and there was murder in her eyes. Her face was set, her teeth were clenched and her hands had become fists upon her lap. The twentysomething father meanwhile was bent forward at the waist and was staring at the tile floor while wringing his hands and saying, “I feel so bad about this. I feel so bad . . .”

At this point I told Ralph to take the father to another location to interview him while I talked to the mother. This is standard practice, a no-brainer. Ralph nodded, gathered his 6’6” SRM frame and pointed a beefy finger at the young father. “You,” he began in a baritone. “Come with me.” The father got up and followed Ralph into an empty nurse’s office. Ralph closed the door behind them. Meanwhile, I began interviewing the mother.

After only five minutes Ralph reappeared. There was a strange light in his eyes and he was grinning in a way that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Then he gestured over his shoulder. “That’s one father who will never hurt another little girl.”

I squinted at him and cautiously asked, “What do you mean?”

“Humph. We both know who did it.”

My insides when cold. “But Ralph, you couldn’t know that. You were with the father while the mother here just confessed to everything . . .” That’s when it hit me, and as the towering trooper’s face turned white I closed my eyes and shook my head. “Ralph, Ralph, Ralph. What did you just do?”

He did plenty—and it was all wrong. Because in this case the father traveled for a living and was gone for days at a time. The mother, lonely and distraught, took it out on their daughter, always Troubledcareful to beat her only where the bruises wouldn’t show. But this time the father came home unexpectedly and rushed the child to the ER and yes, the mother’s face that we saw was one of fury—but it wasn’t directed at the father but toward Life’s circumstances. The father? Yeah, he felt bad—he adored his daughter and was wringing his hands and mumbling out of disbelief and grief over her condition.

Unfortunately, Ralph broke the golden rule that there are always two sides to every story, and while one side might not hold up, it’s still crucial to check out that other side before leaping to unfounded conclusions. But Ralph failed to do this and when he took the young father into the nurse’s station and closed the door, he literally—and I mean literally—beat the shit out of him, then left him bloody and unconscious on the floor before strutting back to where I sat with the mother.

The father spent five weeks in intensive care. Ralph spent five years in prison, where because he’d been a Know Not he spent each day fighting off prisoners who hated cops with a passion that was no less than the one that took over Ralph at that ER. Unfortunately, The Know Not’s passions are pervasive and they leave victims everywhere—even within law enforcement.

In one example that I have firsthand knowledge of, a civilian instructor at a federal law enforcement field office had heard some gossip about a supervisor and the gossip wasn’t nice. Had this person bothered to approach the supervisor to hear his side of the story, it might’ve ended there. But he didn’t, and as a result he never learned that the supervisor was battling higher-ups who hated anyone who wasn’t a white male protestant heterosexual. The civilian then bought into gossip about how the supervisor threw some people under the proverbial bus in a bid to defend himself against management. But in leaping to his conclusions the civilian never found out that the very people spreading the gossip were the same ones who, on hearing of the supervisor’s plight, approached him on their own with offers to stand up for him. That is, they declared their good intentions until the time came for them to take that stand. When that time came they not only backed away, they publicly voiced their outrage at being pulled into the fray—all as a means to protect their own careers. So the civilian instructor who never checked the other side of the story never missed a chance to “dis” the supervisor both within the agency and without. So self-righteous did he feel that he even reported on-going gossip to his bosses, totally unaware of what had originally transpired and totally trashing the supervisor even further.

Child AbusePerhaps that’s why he was a civilian and not a sworn, trained investigator. But then again there are plenty of investigators and street cops who also fall into the Know Not classification, and given this civilian’s outlook it might not have made a difference. Even so, I wonder to this day if he’s proud of what he did to the supervisor or if, should he ever learn what the other side of the story was, if he would even feel bad about it or even—dare I say—try to make amends. But this is how people are in a world that isn’t ideal, and it’s the stuff that offers writers a vast resource of human failings to draw from when creating characters for their novels. So here’s to The Know Not’s who beat innocent fathers and trash innocent co-workers. May God forgive you your failings. In the meantime, we as writers can try to make a difference by using Know Not’s as examples of how not to travel through our lives, and those of others.

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