Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Late Night Patrol. Writing Justice for the Dead - One Veteran's Story.

Why do we choose the subjects we do when we write? Some of us have political, social, or religious agendas. Some of us just want to educate, entertain, express ourselves, or cope. But I believe all writers have a reason for writing what they do.

When I first began putting stories on paper, I was a child, so I wrote children's stories. My subjects have changed over the years. I tend to write from experience, and my life usually shows up in my stories. I'm not writing my life, but my life definitely affects everything I write.

Over the last several years, I have written stories that primarily center around justice, and I tie that to incidents that I experienced in law enforcement. Justice is rarely served, and sometimes, the only way to achieve it is to write it into a story. It is so often lacking in real life. One of the times I encountered this was when I was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany with the Army's 284th Military Police Company.

It was foggy that night, impossible to see beyond the beams of our patrol car. I began the shift with a lie of omission -- and a new partner in a bad mood. Confessing to being the source of Beheng's anger wasn't an option at that moment, and I decided to save the necessary moment of truth for later, preferably as much later as possible.

The 284th was one of those assignments that everyone wanted, and we were the lucky ones to get it. We handled military-related law enforcement for Frankfurt and all of the surrounding cities. It was like being a cop in New York City -- only we covered more territory. I listened quietly as Beheng ranted about his pre-shift detail, which had been the laundry room of our barracks.

We all had pre-shift details. We worked twelve-hour shifts, but before and after each shift, we had Army-related duties. Our twelve-hour shifts usually worked out to be about eighteen. After that, we did our personal chores: laundry, ironing, cleaning, and whatever else we needed to do to get ready for our next shift. It left us with no time, and we were usually functioning on two to three hours of sleep a night. There were times when we worked up to three months without days off. We were all on the verge of snapping. That night, Beheng had snapped.

And it was my fault.

He just didn't know it yet.

I had been running late and needed to get the trash out of my room. I shared the room with Janelle Bebo. Janelle had just left, and I couldn't ask her for help. So I took our trash and put it into the trash can in the laundry room. I was too tired to think about the consequences for whoever was responsible for the laundry room. I was just thinking about getting the trash out of my room and still making it to guard mount on time.

As I settled into the patrol car with Beheng, he began his rant. Bebo had left her trash in the laundry room. There had been a pizza box with her name on it in the trash, and he was going to let her have it the next time he saw her. Literally. He had saved the trash and was going to bury her in it. Since I was her roommate, and as likely a suspect as Bebo, (more so since I was the one coming on shift), he was taking it out on me. I debated telling him the truth right then, but I decided to save the confession for later. After all, we were both armed, and I didn't want to get shot.

Like I said, Beheng had snapped.

It wasn't a very busy midnight shift, so we met up with other MPs throughout the course of the night. Each time we did, the 'trash' subject was brought up by Beheng. He would rage on about what he was going to do to Bebo next time he saw her, and I just stood by in guilty silence, waiting for the best time to tell him. I decided that would be at the end of the shift after we'd turned in our weapons to the arms' room. I'm sure he suspected me, but I didn't think a confession while armed was a good idea. 

Since we weren't busy, we were able to do all of our security checks. There had been several terrorist bombings on military bases in the area, so we did frequent checks of those compounds to watch for suspicious activity. We also patrolled civilian apartment complexes that housed large numbers of military personnel. We were patrolling a German apartment complex around two AM.  Beheng was driving and cautiously maneuvering the different streets in the complex while I watched our surroundings. My task was impossible. It was so foggy I couldn't even see the sidewalks or the grass, much less anything on them.

After we finished, I called in our check, and Beheng pulled out of the complex back onto the street.

I had no sooner called it in than dispatch called us back. A soldier, who was walking his dog, had discovered a dead body lying in the grass beside one of the buildings of the apartment complex. We had just driven by it, but I hadn't even seen it because of the fog. We turned around, drove a few hundred feet, and parked -- quickly finding the man, his dog, and the deceased.

At first, I thought I was looking at a dead child -- a boy of about twelve. Here was someone's baby. I walked as close as I could without disturbing anything and bent down, checking the child's neck for a pulse. There was no pulse, and the skin was still warm and supple. The death had recently occurred. The child's head was completely caved in on the right side. It looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. There was no blood on the scene, so it was obvious that the death had occurred someplace else, and this was a secondary crime scene. The boy had been laid flat, and his body was neatly arranged. His hands were in his pockets. He wore clean white socks. The ground was soaked from earlier rains, but those socks were pristine. They had not even touched a floor -- much less the wet grass.

I stood and moved back, hoping I hadn't contaminated the crime scene. We secured the area and started talking to apartment residents. We soon discovered that the 12-year-old boy was actually an adult woman. She was so small and boyish looking that her appearance had been deceptive. We also discovered that she was a German national, so we called in the German police.

While we waited for them, we spoke with her neighbors. She was a lesbian and a prostitute. She worked in the red-light district in Frankfurt. She and her girlfriend shared the apartment, and apparently they were involved in a lovers' triangle. There had been a loud argument in the apartment shortly before she was found murdered. We had a general idea of what had happened, and when the polizei arrived, we attempted to tell them what we had discovered. They brushed us off and told us it was obviously a suicide.

The woman, according to them, had jumped.

I'd been with the 284th for over a year, and I had worked with many German police officers during that time. These were the first German police officers who had not impressed me.

The woman's body was removed without any investigation, and Beheng and I were left with our mouths hanging open. We could barely believe what had just taken place. Apparently, the murder of a lesbian prostitute was not high on the priority list of these particular police officers.

Beheng had forgotten about the trash.

We were both devastated by what had just happened. The story soon spread like the flu. Everyone on duty with the 284th that night was sickened by the lack of justice for this murdered woman. Though Beheng and I had primarily just been acquaintances when our shift began, we knew each other better now and had shared a dramatic experience. We ended up our shift completely somber but more comfortable with each other.

After we returned to the police station, I told Beheng the truth about the trash. He barely commented on it. A few minutes later, he asked if I could do him a favor. Would I go out to the patrol car and get his briefcase? He needed some paperwork in it. I went out, but when I came back in, he told me he didn't have the right paperwork after all and asked if I'd check my briefcase. Perhaps I had the right paperwork. At this point, all of the MPs who had been on duty that night had returned, and many of the MPs who were coming on duty were present.

I went to my briefcase, opened it

... and it was filled with trash.

I almost fell down laughing. Dozens of people were there when I opened that briefcase -- the MPs coming on duty, and the MPs going off, the desk sergeants, and the patrol supervisors -- and every one of them was laughing.

And we really needed that laugh.

I dreamed about her several times after that -- the woman discarded like trash. In my dreams she always had my sister's face. It haunted me for months. Very few people cared. Those who should have sought justice, didn't. Heartless killers walked free.

My writing changed because of things I witnessed in the military.

I always make sure justice is served in my stories.

It's so often lacking in reality.

Doralynn Kennedy

The photo I use in this post was taken in Rome in early 1986, about one year after the event I relate in this post. I was working with PSD at the time this photo was taken.

Today is Veteran's Day, November 11, 2009. So thank you to all vets and all active duty military personnel and their families.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spycraft and Strange Spy Gadgets, The Elderly Man Next Door

The old man who lives next door keeps strange hours and does not welcome visitors. The neighbor's boy was allowed in one time, but only because it was storming outside and the child was locked out of his house. No one else was at home to help the boy that day.

But other than one small child, no one else has ever set foot inside the old man's home.

Rumors swirl around him like falling leaves in the autumn. One tale bearer claims the hermit is all alone in the world. His family was killed in some tragic accident. Other gossipers weave gruesome tales of a serial killer who escaped from prison or was never brought to justice in the first place. Wild tales are concocted at dinner parties and spread around the table like jams and jellies.

Just the month before, the elderly gentleman bought a poodle at the mall and brought it home with him. Now he spends more time outside, walking his dog into the woods that border one side of his property.

Shortly after the dog moved in, and the old man began taking frequent walks, a strange car began prowling the streets at night.

The boy who spent an afternoon at the old man's house watches from his third-floor bedroom with fascination. The car comes late at night, headlights off, and parks in the dark. A bulky shape emerges, enters the woods and disappears from sight. Eventually, the mysterious visitor reemerges -- carrying a small package -- settles back into his car and slowly drives away into the night.

The boy keeps his observations to himself. He likes the old man with the houseful of computers, TV screens, and radio equipment. And he can keep a secret.

You have probably guessed by now that the old man is a spy, and the boy has witnessed something he was never meant to see.

Around 1970, as the conflict in Vietnam escalated, United States military intelligence (and no, that is not an oxymoron) developed a homing device camouflaged as dog or monkey droppings. It was actually a homing device officially known as a T-1151 radio transmitter, and unofficially it was known as a Doo radio transmitter.

This inconspicuous little spy gadget could send or receive radio messages, usually by Morse code. It was positioned throughout the jungles of Vietnam, relentlessly transmitting a radio signal that led aircraft to enemy ground sites for strikes or reconnaissance missions.

Because the device looked like -- well -- poop, it was usually left undisturbed. Therefore it could be planted well in advance of any mission.

It is still in use today, as our elderly neighbor could verify. If he were talking.

If you'd like to spend more time in the company of spies, let me recommend my novel, Sleeping With Skeletons. You can find out more information on that at my website. You might also like some of the additional posts that I've written below. Thanks!

Here's the link for my site:

Espionage, Shark Repellent, and Invisible Ink

In my first published novel, Sleeping With Skeletons, Margaret Garrison is recovering from the world of espionage. Women have long played an important role in the clandestine activities of groups of all sizes, from small factions to large super powers.

In the Bible, "Rahab the Harlot", hid twelve Jewish spies and has been forever memorialized in the best-selling book of all time.

Virginia Hall was a clerk with the Department of State. She was turned down for a position in foreign service, partly due to her gender, but also because she had a wooden leg and walked with a limp. But neither her sex nor her disability could hold back this lady. She traveled to Europe and joined the French underground, where she became a field officer. She became fluent in German and French and had knowledge of morse code and could work a wireless radio. Because of these skills, she became an invaluable asset to the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA.

During the D-Day invasion, Virginia Hall worked with the French underground to cut electrical lines to telegraph offices, disrupting German communications. She also worked as a milkmaid, delivering milk to German soldiers. That was a cover used to collect intelligence. During this time, she became known as the "limping lady of the OSS." Later, after the war, she became one of the CIA's first female operations officers. She received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest U.S. military award for bravery.

In my novel, one of my main character's aliases is in honor of this incredible woman.

Josephine Baker, an American expatriate, was a well-known entertainer and actress. She was a popular singer who became a French citizen in 1937. She was known as the "Bronze Venus" and the "Black Pearl", as well as the "Créole Goddess" and "La Baker". Josephine Baker was the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture, and she made significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. She was even offered the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement by Coretta Scott King following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Josephine Baker was also a spy.

She served in the French Resistance during World War II and was the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. During the war, Josephine Baker smuggled secret information written in invisible ink on her sheet music. In spite of her fame, she was able to complete her missions unnoticed. Passport checkers were so enamored, they gave her free access to all of Europe, never suspecting that she was, in fact, a spy.

Perhaps one of the most unlikely spies of all time was the famous chef, Julia Child.

Long before she became a household name and famous TV personality, she worked for the OSS. She started her service in the OSS Headquarters shortly after the United States entered World War II. One of her most famous assignments was to solve a problem that faced the U.S. naval forces during World War II. Sharks were bumping into explosives placed underwater, setting them off before they could sink German U-boats as intended. Julia Child, along with several male associates, invented a shark repellent that was used to coat the explosives. They literally invented a recipe to stop the problem, saving an unknown number of lives.

She served in Ceylon and in China, where she was the head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat. She was awarded the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service for her leadership in that post.

During America's Revolutionary War, General George Washington was aided by information provided by the mysterious "355," a female member of the Culper spy ring. The number "355" was code for "lady". This unknown woman helped expose Benedict Arnold as a traitor. To this day, no one knows who she was. Like so many brave women who have served, and continue to serve as spies, she simply did what had to be done and then faded into obscurity, taking her secrets with her to the grave.

If you would like to spend more time in the company of spies, I hope you will consider my romantic-suspense novel, Sleeping With Skeletons. For more information on that, please visit my website at: http://www.doralynn.net/


Click on the tab that says "Skeletons."