Monday, September 5, 2011

The Door Swung Open

The first challenge is underway in the Platform Building Campaign, and it's a doozy! I loved this particular challenge. It's to write a short story in 200 words. It needs to begin with 'The door swung open". There is the option of making it even more challenging by ending with "The door swung shut." Here's my entry. It's exactly 200 words (and that really was a challenge):  

The door swung open. He was barely visible through the smoke, but I recognized a Corelli when I saw one. Gino? Yeah. Gino. He was the worst. He was looking for someone.

I could guess who.

My partner, John, was in the hospital, not expected to survive the round from Vince Corelli’s D’Eagle. Vince lay in the morgue, and I’d put him there. Now Gino wanted justice, but a cop bar was a stupid place to extract it.

His gaze found me and he smiled; it wasn’t a ‘glad to see you’ sort of smile. He weaved around off-duty cops. They were too drunk to know a storm brewed. I pushed away from the bar.

I wasn’t that drunk.

His hand came up and I stared down the barrel of a .45.

Damn. I was drunker than I thought.

I grasped the barrel, deflected it, and struck him over his jugular—not hard enough to kill, but it buckled his knees. The other officers swarmed. Gino was handcuffed before I picked up my barstool. I sat and Mickey brought another beer.

“You okay, Maggie?” 

“Yeah. Fine. But John wasn't. Vince wasn't. 

I turned and watched as the door swung shut.

Here's the link to the challenge:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cat's Eyes

I thought I'd drag out a post I did a while back when I was a guest at another blog. It has never been posted on my site before, but some of my original followers may recognize it from that guest appearance. I hope you enjoy the information.


You're running late, and in your panic you take the wrong exit off the highway. Now you're lost. The road is narrow, and there are no easy places to turn around. You're trapped on a strange road and going the wrong direction -- traveling at night into unfamiliar territory. The minutes are stacking up, and there is still no exit in sight. You glance repeatedly at your wristwatch and fumble for your phone, but it's not where you normally keep it. You check your pockets. It's not there either! Now you're really frantic. Did you leave it on the kitchen counter in your mad rush to be out the door?

The road narrows even more and drops abruptly. Now you're driving over loose gravel, surrounded by abandoned cornfields, and storm clouds are moving in. This is not someplace you want to break down, and it's definitely not someplace you want to get stuck either. The first fat splashes of rain hit your windshield and lightning streaks the sky. A sudden thunderous crash nearly sends your head through the roof as you jump, and the storm lets loose with a torrential downpour. You round a sharp bend and two green eyes peer at you from the side of the road. You brake abruptly, fearing the worst, but there is no cat in sight.

There never was a cat. You just stumbled upon a pickup location.

A reflection of cat's eyes is commonplace at night. I'm sure your headlights have illuminated them at some point in your life. Two glowing eyes in the dark. But sometimes, they're not quite what they appear to be. Cat's Eyes are a device used in spycraft. They make for a great 'pick up' or 'drop off' signal.

Let's say an operative wants to be picked up at an undisclosed location for security purposes, but she is deep in the country, and there are no local pubs or restaurants available. She has told her desk operator that she will be somewhere between spot code orange 7 and blue 13, but that stretch of road is long and lonely. This is where the Cat's Eyes come in. The operator takes a simple sheet of plywood, paints it black, and uses glass beads backed with silver foil for the Cat's Eyes. She plants it next to the road, hides out of sight, and waits for her pickup. Her pickup will know what those two glowing eyes mean, but anyone else will merely pass them by without a second glance.

Next time you're traveling along a deserted highway at night, and you see two glowing eyes on the side of the road, don't assume it's a cat.

... especially if you see a shadowy figure waiting in the dark.

And don't try to dig up that sheet of plywood. It's extremely dangerous.

If you'd like to spend more time in the company of spies, I hope you will read my book Sleeping with Skeletons. You can find out more information on that at my website.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Ethics of Autobiographies

Molly Ringle and I recently discussed the ethics of autobiographies, and I thought I'd blog about that. I think as people we want to "be known." I'm not sure anyone really wants to go through life and not be known intimately by at least one person. Some of us might guard our privacy as fiercely as a Doberman guarding a junkyard, but there are still people we open the locked gates for. We want to let people in. We want to be known. Even if we don't ever offer a complete tour.

There is a large market for biographies and autobiographies. Over the past year we've seen President George Bush's biography, and we've seen Snooki's. I don't think you can get any different as people or life stories. The only thing they had in common was a place on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

One issue with writing a biography or an autobiography is that we always drag other people into the mess. And I say mess because life is messy. If we're completely honest, we're going to hurt people. That's where the ethics come in. I wrote bits and pieces of my biography, but I have since destroyed it. It was impossible to write it without hurting other people -- people I love. Being known is less important to me than protecting them.

If you had publishers beating down your doors asking for your life story, would you give it to them? Would it be 100% honest, or would you withhold things that made you look bad or hurt others?

With that said, I admit that I still want to be known. I shared a story with Molly from my past. It will never make it into an autobiography, but it is going to make it into this blog. Just because, as I said, I want to be known. At least to a degree. And life is short.

A few months after I arrived in Europe, I was drawn into an incident that made international news. On March 23 of 1985, Major Arthur D. Nicholson became the last American casualty of the Cold War. He was shot by a Soviet soldier and was the only Military Liaison officer to die in the line of duty. This quickly escalated into an international incident, and Major Nicholson was promoted posthumously. The image at the top of this blog post is a photo of Major Nicholson's casket being placed on a U.S. aircraft at Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. (A few years later, assassinated CIA Station Chief, William Buckley, who had been kidnapped by the Iranian backed Islamic Jihad, tortured and executed, came home through this same airport. He's known as the spy who never came out of the cold.)

As a result of the incident with Major Nicholson, I was assigned to a patrol at the Soviet Military Liaison Mission (SMLM). We had two cars. One was a stationary car and the other was a chase car. Our stationary car remained at the mission on a more-or-less permanent stake out, monitoring and logging all of the activity taking place at the mission. The comings and goings at the mission, and any observed activity, was documented. That was the job of our stationary car.

The chase car's job was to follow the Soviet officers whenever they left the mission and report on everything they did. It was pretty pointless really. They knew we followed them, and we were limited in what we could do. So whenever they didn't want us to follow, they would just "go beyond our boundaries" so to speak. The chase would break off at that point and we would return to SMLM.

So, back to my earlier question. If you had publishing houses knocking down your door begging for your autobiography, would you give it to them? And how important is it for you to be known?