Saturday, December 28, 2013

No One Writes Alone

The friendly folk at FindMyAudience interviewed me today. Check out their blog for the results!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

May you enjoy the warmth, scents, tastes, and joy of the season

Stay safe

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ticking Clocks and How To Silence Them

Every Friday when I was in 9th grade, my English teacher directed the class to write a power essay. She’d announce the topic and start the clock. We had a whopping ten minutes to formulate and render a complete essay. The class hated Fridays. Even as we moved closer to the weekend, we dreaded the hurdle we had to clear to get there. At the time, I wasn’t particularly fond of my English teacher, but of all the things I learned in school, few things have been more personally beneficial than learning how to write under pressure.

Structurally, the power essay was deceptively simple. The first paragraph stated a hypothesis. The next three paragraphs presented evidence regarding the topic with specific examples. The final paragraph summarized the information and made a declaratory statement that either supported or refuted the original hypothesis. Utilizing this structure freed the mind to focus on content.

Writing a five-paragraph essay is not an impressive feat— I’m living proof that even a 9th grader can survive the attempt.  Throw in a ticking clock, however, and some students barely managed to scribble their name on the top of the page before we were told to put down our pens. The key to success was to split the time. My teacher encouraged students to take a breath, compose a hypothesis, then jot down the gist of each of the three arguments. From there, it was just a matter of expanding the outline.  Knowing what beats you had to hit to make your points saved time.

For my 9th grade self, the reward for writing an essay was a grade.  Years later, the experience paid off as I focused on essay exams, SATs, or defending my research. After becoming a cop, I learned the best way to stay out of court was to write a thorough, well-structured report that the defense attorney couldn’t pick apart. Sure, the reports often exceeded five paragraphs, but the principles remained the same. 

Simply stated, the power essay gave me skills to gather my thoughts, compose a simple outline, then take that foundation and build it into a cohesive essay.  I can still hear Mrs. Simons counting down the minutes before I learned to ignore her and focus on my writing. Deadlines keep me on track, but they no longer intimidate me. So, thank you, Mrs. Simons. Thank you for putting up with a class of bratty 9th graders and teaching us a lesson that lasted well beyond the final bell.

Now, if only I could find a use for all that math.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

Sometimes, it’s difficult to be grateful. There are days, weeks, occasionally even months when it seems like the cosmos entertain themselves by hurtling flaming balls of gas towards earth with your name on them.

Personally? This hasn’t been one of those years. In fact, it hasn’t even been one of those decades. Oh sure, I’ve had challenges. There have been a couple obstacles that made me wonder if I’d actually be able to scale them. But guess what? A scraped knee or two later, and here I am.

I try not to let this time of year be the only time I count my blessings. I’m a pretty optimistic person, in part because I’ve always believed that unfortunate events often result in unanticipated joys. Truth be known, I can’t think of too many people I’d want to trade places with--not even Rachel Weisz, and she’s married to Daniel Craig. That right there should tell you how content I am with my status quo.

You see, I’m in the enviable position of living my dream. A couple years ago, I retired from law enforcement after twenty-two years. I’d always been scratching down the odd story, and I wanted to explore the creative side of my personality. I wanted to write a book.

Now, I’ve written two. The first short story I ever submitted to a contest earned second place. I’ve made the finals or received special recognition in each flash fiction contest I’ve entered. I’ve had the opportunity to study with some amazing teachers.

I share my life with an incredible man. I’ve added several new stamps to my passport. I’m healthy, active and curious. I have wonderful family and steadfast friends. 

Life is good.

And not everyone can be Rachel Weisz.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Can You Ever Forget Your First?

Perspective is everything.

I recently blew the dust off the first book I'd written and opened it up. Enough time had passed that any emotional attachment I had to a particular phrase had faded. Some parts pleased me, others horrified me, and, dare I admit, one emotional beat left me laughing in a place that wasn't meant to be funny.

But it was my first book.

First books are like puppy love--full of fumbling, good intentions, and no clue where it will all lead. Aspiring writers are naive; innocent of passive tense, cliches, and point of view.

Bliss, I tell you, bliss.

Embarking on a second manuscript is like skipping school and not getting caught.* To pull it off, you have to plot, get crafty, maybe even enlist an accomplice. The more you prepare, the better your chance of pulling it off.

Third books just make you crazy.  Ask any of my friends, they'll tell you.  Sometimes, it helps to switch things up a bit--write some short stories, a couple articles, a compelling letter to the parole board asking for clemency. The key is to keep plotting.

Hence, the photo.

Being the Type A personality that I am, those are the scene cards for the first book--the ones I just made, cuz, you know, I wanted to pinpoint where it went off the rails. Turns out, kinda early. Now I have to figure out if the story can handle a mature relationship, or like a first crush, should just be remembered with fondness.

Do you have a manuscript you just can't let go?

*No, Mom, I never did that. I'm a writer. I make shit stuff up all the time for illustrative purposes. Just like the time I told you...well, never mind.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Decision-Making Process in Police Organizations

Note: Our politicians have been kind enough to lift the curtain and reveal their decision-making processes lately, so it seems only fair to discuss how law enforcement determines their direction.  I originally penned this essay in 2011. It was reprinted in Police Administration, 3rd Edition by Larry K. Gaines and John L. Worrall, 2012.

The Decision-Making Process in Police Organizations 
Micki Browning, Captain

Decision-making in law enforcement is as dynamic as the profession and there is no single process that will work in all situations.  The course of action undertaken by an officer involved in a critical incident must be made quickly, under pressure, and often in isolation.  Line-level decisions are made instinctually, based on the individual’s training and experience.  Decisions made by command-level officers, on the other hand, are more apt to be made in a collaborative environment, after extensive research, and under flexible deadlines.   These decisions are contemplative and draw upon the individual’s education and experience.  Whether the decision is made to quell a crisis or serve an administrative function, the immediate and long-term repercussions of these decisions can reverberate throughout the community the officer serves, as well as the agency in which he or she works. Law enforcement professionals have an enormous responsibility and obligation to make ethical, legal and knowledgeable choices that safeguard the public’s trust in our abilities to establish law and order in our communities.

Administratively speaking, decisions rarely need to be made in a vacuum.  I have the incredible good fortune to work with a Command Staff that has enormous respect for each other’s opinions and we all tend to come at problems from different angles.  If I were pressed to label our personalities, the Chief is our visionary.  He often identifies a problem before it is fully formed.  He thinks aloud as he chews on a problem, and we, as his staff, have to recognize that his words are unedited, global and in their infancy.  He relies upon us to nurture his thoughts through their adolescence until they mature into a cohesive plan. The Operations Captain is all about strategy and tactics. He looks at the nuts and bolts of a problem and grounds us. The Chief and Captain often tease me that I’m the kinder, gentler of the two Captains, and for the most part, they’re probably correct. While like any administrator I’m charged with safeguarding the department, I’ve always been concerned with how a decision will impact the individuals involved.  I’ve always considered the human element involved in decision-making.

This works  for us—especially when we disagree.  My Chief has had to mediate more than a few knockdown, drag-out arguments between his captains, but when the decision is reached and the door opens, we present a unified front.  In the end, healthy (and respectful) debate allows any problem to be examined in greater detail. More than once I have challenged someone to back up their viewpoints with facts and had them change my mind.  Administrators must not fear being wrong.  A bad decision defended beyond reason can inflict incredible damage upon an agency.  Collectively, our input makes arriving at a viable decision an easier task and one that yields far better results.

Often bad decisions only surface when someone lodges a complaint either against an officer’s conduct or a procedural process that seemed like a good idea on paper but resulted in unintended consequences upon implementation.  An environment that fosters open communication and an ability to fail forward will result in corrective processes that will strengthen the agency.

So how can making a bad decision result in a stronger agency? It gets back to that whole willingness to be wrong.  It takes strength and humility to admit being wrong.  Considering the number of decisions made on a daily basis, administrators have a lot of opportunity to mess up. It takes courage in a paramilitary organization to approach someone higher in rank and suggest that something could be done better, or that something is flat-out wrong.  It is every bit as important for officers to trust their command staff as it is for administrators to trust members of the department.  Alexander Pope (1688-1744) said it best, “No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that they are wiser today than they were yesterday.”

Police officers and administrators are called upon to make myriad decisions each and every day of their careers.  Whether made individually or collaboratively, the best decisions often start in the heart, process through the mind, and fulfill a vision.  Education, training, ethical motivations, liability, precedent—all these aspects are consciously or unconsciously considered during the decision-making process.  Open communication, trusted advisors and knowing that even an honest mistake can be defended and changed leads to an environment where people feel comfortable deviating from the “Yes Man” mentality and offer true and valuable input into a decision-making process.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fact, Fiction and the Chaos When Worlds Collide

Today we reach into the question grab bag. An author shared her concern about the realism of a scene she'd written and asked for help.

Scenario:  The protagonist, a woman armed with a sawed-off shotgun, is trapped in a room by two bad guys, who also have an innocent man on the ground. Bad Guy #1 enters the room followed by Bad Guy #2 who is behind and to the side. The woman snugs the butt of the shotgun into her belly (she has limited mobility) and pulls the trigger. The recoil knocks her backward.  Bad Guy #1 is terminally injured, Bad Guy #2  is injured, Innocent is unharmed.

Question: Could this happen?

Let's break it down.

Even though it wasn't a part of the question, the first thing I keyed on is the protagonist's weapon choice. A sawed-off shotgun is a modified weapon and possession of it is a felony in most, if not all, states. Depending on how law-abiding the protagonist is, this could be problematic for the story. (As it turns out, the author chose the weapon based on size. The legality of the weapon hadn't occurred to her and her protagonist would definitely not be the type to possess an illegal weapon.)

Second, stabilizing a gun on your stomach is a really, really bad idea. Shotguns kick. Hard. At minimum, the recoil would cause soft tissue damage. On the other end of the spectrum, the blow to the stomach could cause significant internal injuries that in a worst case scenario could result in death.  Either way, pulling the trigger would have rendered the protagonist incapable of continuing as an active participant in her own rescue.

All is not lost, however. Placing the gun against her hip, while not optimal, would increase stability and decrease risk. Considering the woman's disability, the recoil could still spin her off balance. If being knocked backward isn't critical to the narrative, the protagonist really could shoot from the hip.  Holding the weapon low and to the side allows the arms to absorb the recoil. At close distance, like this scenario, aiming isn't critical. Pulling the trigger is.

The author hoped the blast would accomplish a specific outcome: one dead, one injured, one unharmed. Based on how she wrote it, the answer is yes--provided her character used the proper ammo.

When shooting a shotgun load containing pellets (versus a slug which is a single projectile), the spread of pellets is determined in part by the length of the barrel. Buckshot from an unmodified shotgun spreads about a foot every three feet the projectiles travel. Shorten the barrel, increase the spread. Therefore, armed with a sawed-off barrel and Bad Guy #1 a bit over a foot away, the protagonist can certainly inflict major trauma on him while stray pellets injure Bad Guy #2. The victim on the floor can conceivably escape harm or be hit--whichever suits the story.

And that's the key.  Accurate details are essential.  People will notice when things don't add up. That said, there are plenty of details that can be fudged.  Readers don't need to know the actual velocity of each individual pellet expelled from the end of a shotgun.  The trick is knowing what details can be molded to fit your story needs and what's a credibility killer if you get it wrong.

Authors set the parameters of their fictional world.  Seed it in early enough and readers will buy that a law-abiding citizen could own an illegal weapon. Heck, look how many people marveled that dinosaurs could be cloned from the DNA of a fly preserved in amber.  Get enough details right and no one will notice when you throw the occasional fastball.  Get too many details wrong and your story world will devolve into primordial goop.

Savvy authors ask questions.  Do you?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How To Keep Officer Friendly Happy

For the record, I never ate a donut on duty while in uniform. I did, however, partake of scones, muffins, and the occasional croissant. What can I say? I hated being typecast.

Sugar glaze makes people happy. In an unofficial, unscientific poll, most people agree they would rather encounter a happy cop more than any other type. To that end, here are a couple of tips to ensure that your interaction with Officer Friendly remains that way.

1.  Refrain from telling officers that you pay their salary. If you must remind them, don't be insulted if you're handed your dime back.

2.   Going a little too fast? Suggesting the officer's time could be better spent chasing real criminals is a surefire way to earn a ticket.

3.   There's no need to ask a male officer if he likes playing with his gun.  The answer is yes, the question is stupid.

4.   The uniform does not determine a female officer's sexual orientation. Asking for a date will not help your cause.

5.   Challenging an officer to take off his or her badge and shouting "C'mon!" is completely unnecessary.  Pull a punch and we will fight.  No need to take off the badge, and you still get to go to jail.

6.   Think before asking an officer if your friend can take a picture of you in the back seat of the patrol car while partying downtown on a Friday night. You might get your wish. No, the doors don't open from inside.

7.   Cops get meal breaks. They are often interrupted by an emergency call. If you have an emergency, by all means, please stop by the table. Asking how to get out of a traffic ticket does not qualify.

8.   Police cars are not taxis, but if you need to go to jail, we'll see what we can do. No charge.

9.   Flashing a laser pointer at us will end badly for you. We have laser pointers too. Ours are called scopes and they have a higher caliber.

10.  Say hello! Just please remember to use all your fingers when you wave.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sharks, Scotch and Janet Reid

Janet Reid is an uber-agent in the literary world. Her twitter feed reveals she drinks scotch and stalks Jack Reacher in her spare time. Her alter-ego is a shark.  She does not suffer fools, nor sugar coat her advice.

This is good--potentially painful--but good.

She is also incredibly generous. (Follow her to learn what I mean.) Inspired by her clients, she routinely hosts writing contests. The rules are simple: write a story using 100 words or fewer and use 5 specific words in the story. Easy-peasy, right?

Now, based on contests past, I've discovered a couple of things about Ms. Reid.  To put it delicately, she's *ahem* twisted. Don't get me wrong--I like that in a person. (In fact, I'd like to share a scotch with her, although I'd probably need to down one just to work up the courage to approach her.) The successful entries in her contests are equally as twisted, many are macabre, all are surprising.

One hundred words doesn't leave any wiggle room and I had to use the words blitz, tube, blackout, finest, and hour. In the end, I didn't make the final cut, but she did select mine for a special mention:

Not quite a story, but the writing, oh yes, the writing! YUM!
Writer of Wrongs 8:24am and honestly, what a great nom de plum too!

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a wee bit worried about a self-avowed shark employing the word yum, but honestly, I'll take it!

Here's my entry.

     “Finest hour, my ass.” Carlisle loosened Basil’s corset laces.

     Basil inhaled, regained color. “Why do you care? You didn’t suffer a blackout.”

     “You ruined the scene.”

     “The way you blitzed onstage, not even the groundlings knew anything was amiss.”

     “They’re not called groundlings, anymore.”

     “I’m summoning the period.”

     “Summon your inner Juliet. Your cue’s coming.”

      Basil smoothed Carlisle’s wimple. “I did you a favor. Elevated your role.”

     “What, from nurse to doctor?” Carlisle twisted a tube of Romeo Red and slashed it across Basil’s pale lips, smudged some on his cheeks.

     Basil captured his hand. “Nay. My drama queen.”

For those interested in reading the other selections (and to follow Ms. Reid), click on the link.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Explanations, Excuses and Ice Cream

So, um, it's been a bit since I've shared any pearls of wisdom, nuggets of knowledge or pithy observations with my peeps. Seems I've poured them all into my manuscript--well, aside from my tweet about ice cream being the first line of defense in the fight against osteoporosis. That couldn't wait.

But the blog could.  Why? (Drumroll, please...)  Priorities.  The blog just didn't make the cut.

Every writer has heard that writing is a solitary endeavor. What a bunch of hooey.  Granted, sitting at a computer IS a solitary endeavor, but writing encompasses more than beating a tattoo on a keyboard. Let's not forget the conferences to attend, classes to take, critiques to share, scenes to edit, submissions to send, revisions to write, books to read, disappointments to commiserate, and milestones to celebrate. In the last several weeks I've done it all:  MWA-U, revisions, critiques for friends with looming deadlines, Nelson DeMille novels, and last minute pitchfests. I've experienced the angst of querying and the elation of positive responses.

Oh, and I started writing my next book.

All this takes time.  And in the interest of full disclosure, the local market ran out of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food and I had to travel a wee bit further to ensure I maintained my calcium levels at optimum operating levels.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The Care & Feeding of Flying Monkeys

I have a whole hanger of flying monkeys, and lately I seem to have unleashed them on myself.  Sometimes I just can't help it. The little buggers have an amazing ability to slip through the bay doors before I can slam them shut.

But not today.

Today, I herded them into the corner, flung a couple bananas at them to keep them happy and then proceeded to ignore the little bastards.  Oh, yeah, I hear all you fans of aerial primates out there. "How dare she neglect her flying monkeys? What if we all neglected those poor misunderstood critters?" Hold your accusations. The world is not in danger of descending into chaos. In fact, my world is looking decidedly brighter, more organized-- dare I say spiffier?-- all because I'm not cleaning up the mess made by those harbingers of mayhem.

In case you were wondering, they scared the bejeebus out of me as a kid. I'm not any fonder of them as an adult. Funny thing is, they only stick around if you feed them. Which means my banana bill is about to go down.

It's a choice people.  Make a decision.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Who Can You Trust?

A mystery novel is populated with all types of characters: victims, heroes, villains, witnesses, bit players, annoying siblings, love interests and ... joggers.

Witnesses are a mixed bag. There's the earnest, I just want to help good Samaritan, the I can't be  bothered to talk to the police can I go now? big shot , the if I bat my eyes maybe the officer won't realize I'm drunk socialite, the I just happened to be passing through this deserted commercial building at 3 a.m. parolee, the overly curious Wow, those flames sure are pretty, even if they are at a nursing home bystander, and my personal favorite, the ubiquitous I just barely got here, I didn't see nuttin.

What do they have in common? All witnesses have their own agenda. It's your sleuth's job to figure out what  it is.

Yes, sometimes a jogger is just a jogger. Sometimes people really are in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a writer, you need to know what circumstances unfolded to identify your character as a witness.  More importantly, you need to know how this impacts your character.

Allow me to explain.

A married woman in a hotel room with someone other than her avowed hubby may not gush with information regarding what she heard three hours earlier while she was -ahem- indisposed. She might admit hearing an argument, but not want to give her real name. She might flee the scene, be identified after the fact and be questioned at her home... in front of said hubby. Think she'll talk? She had nothing to do with the crime, but she's got plenty to hide.

But sometimes, a witness is really the perpetrator. Perhaps he thinks he can feed the investigator false information to frame someone else. Maybe he didn't get away in time. It could be that the suspect returned to the scene of the crime to watch the drama unfold and was questioned as a matter of routine.

Often witnesses don't know the worth of the information they have.  A jogger who stumbles across a body may know nothing about the person, the crime or the suspect, but can tell officers about the scene at the time of discovery. That gunmetal grey SUV that swerved at the jogger then sped away may be a critical clue for investigators.

Then there are people who think they're witnesses but aren't.  These are the people who heard the collision, ran over to investigate and saw two drivers standing beside their dented cars arguing about who ran the stop sign. Yes, they can draw the conclusion that a collision occurred, but they don't know the sequence of events that caused it.

Mindset comes into play with all witnesses. It is a sad day when officers realize that eye-witnesses aren't as reliable as the officers want them to be.  The more traumatic the event, the likelier it is that the statement will be flawed. Stress does strange things to the human brain. Severe stress reverts us all to lizards. Our system is programmed to take care of the necessities. Survival. Everything else is gravy--including memory.

In their quest for fitness, joggers really do find dead bodies. But whether or not your reader trusts them is up to you.

Just saying.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Back to School

I was feeling pretty guilty about not having a post up and running when the lovely folks over at Sisters In Crime published my experience with the Gotham Writers Workshop.

Head on over!
Sisters In Crime Blogspot - Back to school with Micki Browning

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Cop Walks Into A Bar...

Heard that one?

Comedians are masters of dialogue.  Their words are playful, multi-layered and often unexpected. Everything leads to the punchline.

Too often, a story goes off the rails when characters state the obvious without any subtext. The punchline--that crucial reveal of something significant--is exposed prematurely.  Conversely, dialogue can also be so oblique that it confuses the reader and the punchline is lost. When I'm stuck, crafting dialogue often helps me find what is really at the heart of a scene emotionally. I write a staccato exchange; no tags, no description, not even attributions. Then I trim it down, tidy it up, fill in the background, decide what tags serve the exchange, what attributions ground the reader.

More often than not, the characters deliver their own punchline. All I have to do is listen.

At the beginning of the year, I took a Gotham Writing Workshop. Each week, the instructor assigned a writing prompt to concentrate on a key storytelling element. When it came time to explore dialogue, students were told to minimize description and let the character's words tell their tale. This prompt required a character to walk into a bar and need something from the barkeep.  In less than 500 words, the writer also had to suggest an underlying attraction between the two.  Pretty vague instructions...

Mary stood in the doorway of the Copper Hart Pub, waiting for the dim interior to beat the sunshine from her eyes. 
     “Well, look what the cat dragged in.” The whiskey-gruff voice came from behind the bar. Frank turned his back to her and reached for the Jameson’s bottle on the upper shelf, then placed it on the bar.
  Mary shook her head. “Business.”
“Always is with you.” He poured a shot and slid it in front of her.
“How’s the knee?” she asked.
“Told me a storm was coming and here you are.”
“Here I am.”
Frank stashed the bottle. “You ever gonna get to the point?”
“I need to know if a woman was in the bar last night.”
“Lots of them.”
“I’m only interested in one.”
“What makes you think I’d remember her?”
Mary slid a photo in front of him. “She’s your type.”
“Mouthy, obstinate and infuriating?”
“Tall, blond, and ready to tip over.”
“Everything you’re not.”
"Pretty much.”
“What’s it worth?”
His shoulders jerked. “Business has been slow.”
“Maybe you should consider coming back.”
He brandished the bar towel in a grand arc. “And give up all this?”
“Do you ever wonder what it’d be like?”
“What? If we were still partners?”
She nodded.
“No.” He wiped the spotless bar. “Business and pleasure didn’t work out so well for us.”
“So. Was she here?”
He arched his brow. 
     Mary pulled a twenty from her pocket.
“Keep it.” He threw the cloth into the sink. “I just wanted to see how low we’d fallen.”
She slapped the bill on the bar. “That’s the difference between us, Frank. I never bluff.”
“All business.”
“You want me gone? Answer my question.”
Mary sighed. “No, you won’t answer my question?”
“No, she wasn’t here. I’d remember her.”
Unlike me.  She gathered the photo and slipped it back into her pocket. They stared at each other. A game of chicken with their eyes. Mary lifted the glass and tossed the shot then slammed it upside down on the twenty and shoved them both toward Frank. 
     “You were never business.”

What would your punchline reveal?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Football...or as the Americans say, Soccer

March madness has slid into April and sport junkies have to look further afield for their high.  May I present Football.

No, not that one. Soccer.

Several years back, I spent time in Paris. When it comes to civil disobedience, no one does it better than the French. One Saturday, a friend of mine invited me to accompany him to the Marseille/Paris soccer match. He was a high-ranking official for the Paris police and was working as the Security Operations Commander for the event.  He promised it would be a memorable afternoon. I should have realized what I was in for when I asked him about the dress code.  "Jeans are fine. Oh, and shoes you can run in...."

The perimeter set around the stadium stretched several blocks. Cars and pedestrians were denied access, residential vehicles had been towed, barricades erected, and everyone held at bay by a contingency of intimidating officers wearing full riot gear and scowls.  The stadium holds 45,000 spectators of which 2,000 were Marseille fans.  Not good odds for the visiting team.

The Marseille fans arrived on buses and were escorted into the stade in groups of about 400.  My friend and I assisted on the second wave after watching the first mob pass.  Most wore team jerseys and blue Marseille scarves. They all arrived fully stocked with attitude.  Hand signals embellished their full-volume chants and I learned a bunch of new vocabulary—but nothing I could say in front of Mom. 

Before moving this hoard of seething testosterone, (very few women attended the match) officers took them off the buses one by one, searched them for weapons, contraband, and fireworks, then placed them in a holding area.  Think cattle and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the setup.  From there, the fans were walked the several blocks to the stadium completely surrounded by officers with shields and batons.

The Marseille section reminded me of the Western Front. Only it wasn’t quiet.  Fences and barricades prevented objects from being thrown into or out of the area.  Once the Marseille fans reached their seats, police lifted the outer perimeter to allow the Parisians into the area. Marseille had their own concessions, toilets and seats.  This was to prevent mingling between the two warring factions.  It did not, however, prevent interaction…au contraire.

Police lobbed the first teargas canisters before the opening kick after rowdy Parisians pushed through an entrance barricade.  The plumes of smoke wafted into the Marseille section which only increased their fervor.  I understand the water canon was maneuvered into range, but alas, I didn’t witness its effectiveness. Further afield, a police car had a window smashed out.  Considering it was occupied at the time by four annoyed flics, I think I can safely opine that if the suspect had drowned in the gene pool, France’s median IQ would be higher. 

Much like their US counterparts, French police agencies often rely on mutual aid. Parisian police, the gendarmes, (sporting flames on their patches to symbolize their love of deploying gas) a neighboring city: Boulogne Corre, and several platoons of mobile forces, affectionately known as goon squads all helped manage this feisty crowd.  To round things off, ferociously mean looking dogs with hungry looks in their eyes dragged around their handlers. They all sported muzzles and although I don’t know what breed they were, none of them answered to Lassie.  If they ran up to Timmy it wasn’t to tell him that someone fell into the well, it was to eat him.

When the games started, so did the fire torches. Evidently French frisking methods leave something to be desired. 

By this time, I was ensconced in the command post on the middle of the three stadium levels.  Inside, a bank of 60 full-size, high-resolution monitors displayed the action outside. Each camera is controlled independently with 360 degree rotation and zoom capability. A subject can be tracked from two blocks away and followed without interruption until he takes his seat. The backbone of the system is a Linnus mainframe. Fiber optics capture images that can be fed to digital recognition software. At the time, sound was being hardwired under the seats, capable of giving isolated commands or blanket announcements.  The cost? Lets just say there were a bunch of zeroes and a couple commas.

Paris scored the first goal, prompting a new round of torches, jeers and banners.  Stadium security and I descended into the labyrinth of passages that run behind the scenes of the arena.  We came out by the seats adjacent to the Marseille section when Parisian logged their second goal.  The noise was deafening.  Parisians stood on the backs of their seats to taunt Marseille over the barriers by waving. 

Darnedest thing, French soccer fans only use one finger.  

Back into the warren of tunnels, we moved to the pelouse—lawn.  (Fields are for battles, although I must confess, the distinction was lost on me)  The event had been sold out for months and both teams were tied in the national championship.  I stood amongst TV cameras, coaches, water boys, medics and fans confined to wheelchairs.  The energy vibrated throughout my body.

Then demi-temps. Half-time.  Only the Marseille fans were in lock down.  Literally. 

When the game resumed, Marseille began throwing things onto the game. Theoretically, they had nothing to throw. But fans are nothing if not resourceful and they augmented their arsenals with anything they could break off in their section. Lit on fire, the scuds arced onto the field like fireworks. 

Pretty. The police, however, were not impressed. 

Feeling neglected, the Parisians unbolted their seats in anticipation of joining the fray. A couple skirmish lines later and the fans settled down like petulant children grounded by their parents.  

The third and final goal was kicked into the Marseille net and the game concluded 3-0 Paris.  The Parisians hoisted anti-Marseille scarves and stretched them sideways until the entire stadium resembled undulating linguini.  The Marseille sulked in their section until they were allowed to return to their buses, once again surrounded by their police escort.

This was my first live soccer match that didn't involve AYSO.  Fouls were frequent, and I’ve discovered that soccer players are really, really bad actors.  They fall writhing to the ground hoping to have a foul called on the other team, but then they can’t just hop up as if they weren’t hurt, so a teammate has to run over to pour some water on them.  I bet Gatorade would love to know what’s in those bottles, because POOF! Magic!  Away they go.  My personal high point came when two guys collided in mid-air then crashed to the green. One jumped up, not realizing his opponent’s cleats still pinned his shorts to the ground….   

They could certainly diversify their audience if they had more moments like this.  

But in the end the only score that really mattered wasn’t from the game, it was from the men and women who controlled the chaos:  Bad guys 1,  Police 26.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

I know this post isn't going to generate a whole lot of sympathy. I'm okay with that.  What I'm not okay with is the Schmoe who didn't pay the heating bill and now Florida is freezing. Maybe not literally, but within a couple of degrees. Bottom line? The Keys are cold and I'm not sure we have enough rum to soldier through.

Now, to put it in perspective, when I say cold, I mean mid-forties. Before you get all worked up (Yes, I'm talking to you, Wisconsin), for South Florida, this is brisk. The average temperature ranges between a low of 66 degrees to a high of 79. So yeah. Waking up to a 51 degree morning requires an extra cup of coffee to ward off the chill.  Heck, even the water temperature is averaging 75.

Before anyone starts lobbing snowballs my way (Minnesota, you're up), let me confess I spent many a year in Colorado. I remember working accident scenes practically hugging the engine block of my patrol car to stay warm. That's exactly why I'm not there anymore. I think I shaved several years off my training officer's life when I arrived in Colorado via California and had to learn to drive in that nasty white **(Hint: it's a four letter word that starts with S...).

Yes, cops (especially ones recently relocated from California) have gotten their patrol cars stuck in the snow. No, their shift mates will never let them forget it.

Lest ye think I'm a winterphobe, let me assure you I am not. I just like to be prepared for it.  In Colorado, I've had to work in double-digit negatives.  Makes one long for a balmy mid-forty day. I also wore base-layer long johns (Big shout-out to Patagonia and UnderArmor--you warmed my heart), double socks, wool pants, turtleneck, ballistic vest, wool uniform shirt, jacket, gloves, beanie, and whenever possible, a patrol car--preferably with heat blasting through the vents.  In Florida, on the other hand, I wear shorts, tees, and wetsuits. This week, I had to break out my jeans and a sweatshirt. The locals are bundled in parkas and furs (Laugh it off, New Hampshire).

Cops will always find ways to keep warm, even in the worst elements.
I'm currently considering arson.

* Snow! This is a family-rated blog!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Life and Death

Cops witness death in all its ugliness. They respond to deaths where life is stolen from unsuspecting people. They also enter homes where death is a surprise visitor disguised as a heart attack, or stroke, or accident. Sometimes death enters a home while all is quiet, and because the death is unattended, officers respond to assess the scene.

I have seen death more often than I wish to recall, but I was present to witness life lose its battle three times. I felt helpless in two of the situations. The third, I fought to keep the person alive, watched while ER docs cracked open the man's chest and applied paddles directly to his heart to try to keep death at bay, all to no avail.

I have said a prayer over the body of an elderly woman who died in her sleep. Alone. And hoped that when my time came, I wouldn't share her fate. I've held an 86 year-old man while he sobbed after losing his wife of 67 years. I've witnessed the stunned confusion of a young couple after their infant stopped breathing during the night.

A cop's job is much more than fighting crime. They fight death. And more often than not, they lose. Then their job requires them to pick up the pieces, determine if a crime has been committed and do their best to find justice for those left behind.

In all my years as an officer, I only had to give one death notification. A woman's husband had been robbed while collecting rent from their properties. He was shot in the head for an envelope of checks that were worthless to anyone else. The victim's wife opened her door to a young officer and her sergeant standing on the front porch. The German Shepherd at her side growled at us. She had to secure him in another room while wondering why two officers wanted to talk to her at 9:30 at night, knowing that officers didn't deliver good news after dark in pairs. She absorbed the information stoically. I made her a cup of tea while she called her brother--a cop in another state. I gave him the scant details I could share. Paltry comfort.

My shift continued as normal. But I had delivered news that altered her life forever.

This past month, my life has been altered. I watched while a man I loved and respected fought for breath. He was held by his wife and their three children.

Life does not always yield easily, especially when a willful, retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant doesn't agree that it's the right time to go. After all, he'd only been married for 58 years. Not nearly long enough to spend with the love of his life, nor the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that comprised his family.

Cops want to fix things. They want to ease pain, get the bad guys, save the world. It's humbling to be helpless. There have been many words spoken about death. Pithy comments that trivialize it, erudite quotes that immortalize it, words meant to uplift, comfort, distract. The truth is, it hurts to lose someone you love. Death makes a person reevaluate life. It puts things in perspective.

There are some things that can't be fixed. But a good cop never stops trying.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It Never Ends...

Revisions are done, synopsis honed, queries sent. The wait begins. For the moment, there is nothing more for me do.

But write.

New characters whisper in my ear. They've been waiting, too. Waiting for me. Now, their voices gain strength. They pull at my sleeve and point the way, giggling when I take a wrong turn. They plot--sometimes giving me clues to their motives. Other times they play coy, pushing me to figure it out.

And I will.

Because no one likes to wait when there are stories to be told.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Intentions

New beginnings imply the end of something else. It's Life's version of the mulligan. The fading time before the turn of the calendar lends itself to reflection. The first new day of the year is full of hope and possibility that too often fails to outlast the day itself. Pity. Every new day should dawn with excitement and the possibility of something wondrous.  That's why I write.

I don't do resolutions. I reflect, ponder, devise, create, and sometimes regret. I have an on-going relationship with my delete key on the computer. I have good intentions and grandiose dreams. I am an optimist who believes that sometimes it may be hidden, but the silver lining really does exist if you look hard enough. I leap, trusting that the net will appear--although, I hedge my bets with advance planning when possible. I try to live fearlessly.

Time has ushered in a new year. What that year holds remains to be seen, but I am filled with hope.

Happy New Year.