by Dave Lager

Settings #22 – The new Regional Law Enforcement Campus

As a captain with the Lee’s Landing City Police in the 1980s and early 90s, Mark Ballard saw emerging forces that would drive fundamental changes to how law enforcement would be conducted moving into the next century. For one, there was more and more specialization – SWAT teams, gang units, evidence technicians – and a greater emphasis on officer professionalism. Both the operational standards and the technology for the administration of jails were being revised and upgraded. And there was increasing emphasis on productivity, the more effective and efficient use of law enforcement resources.

So, in 1992 when he was elected Fort Armstrong County Sheriff, he took a pro-active approach to these changes, preferring to lead them rather than just react. While he inaugurated lots of day-to-day changes – like equipping patrol cars with mobile data terminals and having deputies begin and end their shifts from home instead of headquarters – all of them fit into his “big vision” of regionalization, that is, working alongside rather than in competition with other local law enforcement agencies.

It took nearly ten years of planning and negotiating, but in the early 2000s two of his biggest efforts saw implementation.

The first was construction of the Regional Law Enforcement Campus (RLEC) on unused land owned by Fort Armstrong County next to the county fairgrounds just north of Lee’s Landing. The RLEC would include three separate buildings but standing side-by-side.

The Regional Firearms Facility (RFF) was the first to open in 2002. It was on the far right of the planned trio; the smallest building. The first floor included an entrance foyer, some offices and conference rooms and a large temperature and humidity-controlled warehouse for county records. The lower level housed a standard, eight-lane seventy-five-yard shooting range equipped with a computer-controlled pop-up target system.

At three stories, the regional jail was on the far left, and was the largest building in the complex. With a capacity of up to five hundred prisoners, it received inmates not only from Fort Armstrong County, but adjacent Makuakeeta County and Culver County. Construction was started early in 2003 and was scheduled for completion in the fall of 2004. As it was a secure jail facility, there was no helping that it ended up with a vaguely fortress-like appearance.

Finally, a new sheriff’s headquarters stood between the other two buildings. Construction began in the spring of 2004, with completion scheduled for the fall of 2005. It was set slightly forward of its adjacent neighbors and instead of any parking in front, there was a park-like courtyard that reached all the way out to the street.

The lower level of the new sheriff’s headquarters included the department’s vehicle maintenance garage and parking area (SWAT vans / patrol cars / special purpose vehicles), the new Joint SWAT staging area (briefing room, lockers for uniforms and equipment); deputies’ lockers, a gym / fitness center, the weapons vault and a secure evidence storage area.

The first floor included an entrance foyer and reception area, the dispatchers’ office, the deputies’ ready room, the “bullpen” for sergeant’s desks and a conference and education center named in honor of Sr. Sgt. Cyril Waters, who served as a deputy for forty-two years.

The second floor included the administrative offices (officers, administrative support) and the detectives’ offices and interview rooms.

Next to Fairgrounds Road, across almost the entire front of the three buildings was a wide, four-foot high wall with “Fort Armstrong County Regional Law Enforcement Campus” etched into it in two-foot high letters. Ground mounted floodlights were clearly meant to illuminate the sign at night.

While Ro Delahanty would, like all of her fellow deputies, move out to the new sheriff’s headquarters, the regional effort by Sheriff Ballard that would most impact her was the formation of an expanded Regional Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Unit. The new unit merged and expanded existing smaller sheriff’s department and Lee’s Landing Police Department’s SWAT teams and would be available for deployment not only in Fort Armstrong County, but the adjacent Culver and Makuakeeta Counties. Ro was recruited for the expanded unit as its designated marksman (sniper).

Next: The Twins “killer” condo in downtown Chicago

© 2019 Dave Lager

This is where creatives live…

“I believe ordinary mortal life is played out on two stages, situated on two different levels. Let us call them the trivial plane and the tragic plane. But on some rare occasions, when confronted with death or we are engulfed in the oceanic feeling, we seem to fall through a stage trap and are transferred to the tragic or absolute plane. Then all at once the pursuits of our daily routine appear as shallow, trifling vanities. But, once safely on the trivial plane, we dismiss the experience of the other as phantasms of over strong nerves. The highest form of human creativity is to bridge the gap between the two planes.”

– Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) Author, journalist, philosopher, social critic

I think bumped into this quote while I was in college – it was definitely a head-slapper. Then, as now, I don’t think I have ever read anything that so perfectly captures where artists, writers and composers seek to go.

Settings #21 – The “old” sheriff’s headquarters next to the courthouse in downtown Lee’s Landing

Fort Armstrong County built an impressive new courthouse on what was then the edge of downtown Lee’s Landing in the 1890s. It was considered an architectural jewel of its time, with a stately central spire, stylized Greek columns that really didn’t serve any structural purpose but gave it a “wisdom of the ages” feel, and lots of fancy, contrasting color brickwork. It, of course, included the sheriff’s office and jail.

But eventually the sheriff’s department and jail outgrew its space, so in the 1950s a new addition was added behind the original courthouse to house the law enforcement folks. It, naturally, reflected the architectural style of the time, which meant it was large and blocky and had very little adornment; in fact, it had a vague, fortress-like quality.

This was the building Ro Delahanty went to work in as a third shift dispatcher in the fall of 2001 and that she worked out of when she first became a deputy in 2003.

Not only was the exterior fifties-era, so was the interior. Most of the rooms tended to be long and narrow with rows of fluorescent lights hung from high ceilings, the furnishings were strictly utilitarian metal desks set in straight rows in an open floorplan – no cubicles here. By the early 2000s, to some it had acquired a dated, almost shabby look, but to Ro it had a comforting sense of tradition – while it might be a little beat-up, she thought, it still had plenty of dignity.

Her dispatcher’s room, located right behind the reception counter, was barely larger than a closet. The radio equipment sat on a metal desk with room for only one operator’s chair; on the wall directly above the radio equipment was a large map of the county, with even the little-used gravel roads noted. A glass window gave the dispatcher a view of “the bullpen.”

That’s what everyone called the open space where the sergeants sat at half-a-dozen desks, where there was a row of computers along a wall for deputies to use to write their reports, and where on the opposite wall was a table with a big coffee urn and a variety of mismatched mugs – it was the informal social gathering place (including lots of flirting) for deputies, jailers and administrative staff.

Behind the bullpen to one side was the deputies’ ready room, where officers used to gather for the traditional beginning and end of shift briefings. But right after he was first elected in 1992, Sheriff Ballard discontinued that practice. Deputies now kept their own squads and started their patrols from home, logging-in as “on duty” on a data terminal in their cars; he believed it added at least a half hour to their “on the street” time. The ready room was now only used for training and occasional deputy meetings.

The detective’s offices and interview rooms were at the back of the first floor, with the officers and administrative personnel on the second floor. The jail, a small SWAT unit staging area and the department’s garage and vehicle maintenance shop were all on the lower level.

Next: The “new” Regional Law Enforcement Campus

© 2019 Dave Lager


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Every writer knows this feeling.

Settings #20 – Patrick’s condo in downtown Lee’s Landing

About two-and-a-half years older than Ro, her brother was christened Patrick Sean Delahanty at birth. Growing up, he was “Patrick” to his mother and father and “Pat” to his many friends. But to Ro he was “Tuck,” because as a small child she couldn’t say “Patrick,” it came out “Tuck” and that stuck as only her special nickname for him.

Ro moved into her apartment in August of 2001, soon after becoming a night dispatcher for the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department, when she was nineteen-and-a-half, which though not unheard of, was a bit unusual for a Millennial.

On the other hand, Patrick continued to stay in his parent’s home for three more years, long after he’d graduated from college and gone to work with the local #1 TV station as an ad sales rep, until he was almost twenty-six, a more typical Millennial life-style choice.

It was early in 2003 that Kate Delahanty Design was contracted to design and furnish the common areas for the re-development into loft-style condominiums of a former high-rise furniture warehouse in downtown Lee’s Landing.

Thinking it just might be the kind of place her son would like – she would always insist it was NOT her way to tell Patrick to move out – Kate brought home preliminary developer’s brochures and plans and showed them to Patrick, who agreed. As she was the first to put down a deposit on her son’s behalf, he was at the head of the list to pick a unit when they were ready. It took nearly a year-and-a-half for the project to be completed: Patrick moved in in the fall of 2004.

In fact, the building was perfect for re-development. There were nine floors with no interior walls, thick, hardwood original flooring, and loads of large windows – it was like an architectural blank canvas.

The first level, “Kate’s level,” included an entrance foyer, the management office, mail-room, fitness room, lounge and party-meeting room. Each of the eight residential levels above was designed to house eight units, six two-bedroom units – four of which were corner units – and two one-bedroom units.

Patrick had chosen a two-bedroom unit – but not a corner unit – on the ninth floor that offered a spectacular view west across downtown Lee’s Landing, the nearby Mississippi River and downtown Stephenson over in Illinois: the sunsets were magnificent.

Where Ro had pretty much chosen a “no-look”-look for her apartment, with his mother’s help, of course, Patrick wanted to make a different statement with his place, choosing an industrial chic look, with lots of sharp angles, bare metal and modern art.

Where Ro tended to think of her place as a personal sanctuary; yes, she had occasional visitors, but the thought never occurred to her she would ever have a “party” there, Patrick, on the other hand, designed his condo from scratch to accommodate entertaining.

A central great room had one main conversation area, plus several smaller groupings. The walls were decorated with large works of dimensional fabric art, which Kate had recommended to give the room personality and to soften the angularity of the furnishings.

One wall of the great room was taken-up by a modern, galley kitchen, fronted by a long counter top and eight stools. At one end of the cabinets was a tall, slender open wine rack that could accommodate four dozen bottles; at any one time there were only a few empty spots.

Behind the kitchen was a three-quarter bath and a small room Tuck used as a home office but that could easily be a guest room. It was where he kept his personal mementos, like his framed degree in business administration from the University of Northern Iowa, the plaque acknowledging he’d been president of the Young Business Leaders Club, the coat of arms of his fraternity and photos of family, friends and business associates.

On the opposite side of the great room was his master suite, with a mini-seating area, a king bed, and its own bath, complete with hot tub. Definitely built for entertaining…

Next: The “old” Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s headquarters

©2019 Dave Lager

To a real writer, “business-speak” is a dirty word

“If you write to impress it will always be bad, but if you write to express it will be good.”

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) – Playwright and novelist

If we’ve spent any time at all in the business world, we’ve all been there… Those interminable, business memos written to impress us with the writer’s expertise and professionalism but are nothing but jargon-filled blather that says little if anything.

Settings #19 – Atti’s childhood “studio apartment”

The Ro Delahanty-Atti Mehra friendship was living proof that opposites attract. They were opposites in physical size and appearance – Ro was tall and slender, Atti was short and thick… Opposites in personalities – Ro was Ms. Responsibility, Atti was Ms. Impudence… Even opposites in their childhood “rooms” – where Ro grew up in a typical split-level home youth bedroom, Atti had for all intents and purposes her own studio apartment.

When the Mehras moved to Lee’s Landing they bought a house in north central Lee’s Landing, although they didn’t know it at the time, not from the Delahantys. Ro and Atti met when she enrolled in the fifth grade at Emerson Elementary School; they became quick and close friends, quite possibly because in many ways they were each other’s alter egos.

Atti’s father was going to be the new head of the local community college’s choral music programs and director of the Illowa Community Chorus, which was sponsored by the school, while her mother landed a job teaching in the hospital-based Austin-Mercy School of Nursing in Lee’s Landing. So, they were amenable to each using one of the more conventional bedrooms in the house as their home office and ceding to Atti the studio apartment above the garage that had originally been intended as a kind of guest suite.

It was huge, three times the square footage of Ro’s bedroom; it even had its own private, three-quarter bath and even its own outside entrance at top of some stairs at the back.

Where Ro tended to be fastidious about her room, it was always picked-up, the clothes hung neatly in the closet or folded in her dresser, Atti’s studio was chaos personified, ankle deep in dirty clothes, dog-eared magazines, and “stuff,” the use of which was often puzzling.

In one corner was a deep purple colored sectional sleeper-sofa that regularly hosted Ro’s and Atti’s frequent sleep-overs. There was a pair of wide, cube-style bookcases with baskets that were supposed to serve in place of a conventional chest of drawers, and a fat, tube-based color TV and DVD/VHS player on a wheeled media stand in a corner.

Two long, folding-leg tables set side-by-side dominated the middle of the room. A pair of roll-around stools facilitated access to the two computers, each with a pair of monitors, numerous drawing pads and a litter of half-done sketches, art books, and colored pencils and pens.

On the wall above the sofa was the huge, ghoul-image laden, five-panel Iron Maiden rock band poster. Other posters around the room featured the Doom video game warrior blasting away at a horde of demonic figures, the lonely urban mood of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust poster and the leering, skull head spoof of Hello Kitty called Hellkitty.

But there were also several dozen samples of Atti’s own drawings tacked to the walls; ranging from pelt clad, prehistoric era warriors with spears to armored knights with swords, from modern day military types wielding fierce-looking automatic weapons to futuristic fighters with blasters – they were equally divided between male and female. But there were also a few drawings obviously inspired by the anime style, and even some gentle, whimsical animal characters that might fit right into a Walt Disney film.

So, it should be no surprise Atti’s ambition was to become some sort of computer graphic artist.

Next: The “old” Sheriff’s Department headquarters next to the courthouse in downtown Lee’s Landing

© 2019 Dave Lager

The Five Major Qualifications for an Author

I saw this posted recently on Mark Dawson’s SPF Facebook page; found it thought-provoking. Inspired by Ikki Kajiwara (1936-1987), author, manga writer, film producer:

1) Never create a superficial piece of work. Turn every drop of blood into words!
2) Do not indulge yourself in the flowers of temporal popularity. Dig up the soil to spread your roots deep below.
3) Even if you attain some status, do not linger on it. If there is a choice between peace and storm, choose the storm.
4) SUPER IMPORTANT- Never cry after being defeated. Research your defeat and make it the mother of your victory.
5) Even if you follow all the qualifications, never think you are always correct. Let everybody around you be your master.

Settings #18 – Ro’s childhood bedroom was “typical,” but only to a point…

For one, it was what at the time was the standard child-sized room for a split-level, thirteen by twelve.

For another, it had all the requisite furnishings: A single bed against the far wall to the right of the door, with a chest of drawers in between; a bi-fold closet door covering half the left wall and a desk and small, three-shelf bookcase pushed up against the other half.

But that’s pretty much where the room’s “typical”-ness ended…

For example, as the bedroom of a little girl, there wasn’t even a hint of frills or lace anywhere to be seen. Her cotton chenille bedspread was a plain khaki with a vague stripe pattern woven-in and the window treatment was a bamboo slatted shade that could be raised and lowered from above – most of the time it was all the way up.

There were no boy band or teen hunk posters. Instead, the posters Ro had tacked to the wall above her bed extolled the exploits of several of the strong women she admired – Molly Pitcher, the Revolutionary War heroine; Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark’s invaluable guide; and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the world’s first great female athlete.

Nor was there a doll of any kind visible in the room, except for Peter Panda (shown above).

A three-foot teddy bear, he had been a gift from her Aunt Eileen – her mother’s sister-in-law – on her second birthday. He had immediately joined Ro in her bed, only moving over to his present perch atop the dresser in her sixth year. While a parade of other gift dolls – Aunt Eileen was sure every little girl loved playing with dolls – had followed on birthdays and Christmases, including lots of Barbies and Barbie accessories, these had all soon ended up stored away in Ro’s closet, still in their original, unopened packages.

Over the years Ro’s relationship with Peter evolved from childhood cuddle-mate to a teenager’s and young adult’s friend and confidante; she came to think of him like the Wilson character in the Tom Hank’s film “Cast Away.” When Ro moved into her new apartment, Peter Panda came too, assuming his usual position atop a dresser in the bedroom.

The bookcase next to the desk added even further to the room’s “un-typical”-ness, since by the time Ro was a teenager it mostly held her collection of ribbons, medals and trophies from competitions as a skeet shooter, then later as a judo student, and finally as a handgun target champion.

But by far the room’s most dominant – as in totally out of proportion to the room’s size – and most disconcerting feature was Mike’s old recliner wedged between the foot of her bed and the nearly floor to ceiling casement windows that offered a wide view of the backyard and the grove beyond. In fact, unlike how seating is normally placed looking into a room, the chair faced outward.

Which came first: The chicken of the egg? Ro “inherited” the chair at her own request on her twelfth birthday. It was also the same day she had her first period. So, was there some cause and effect relationship? But which might be the cause, and which the effect?

Regardless, it soon became Ro’s habit to sit in the chair for hours, sometimes before climbing into her bed, sometimes getting up in the middle of the night…thinking. In fact, that’s eventually how she came to think of it, as her Thinking Chair… Pondering all the big and little questions youngsters have growing up: Who am I? Where do I fit in? Do I even want to fit in? Why does my brother have loads of friends and I don’t? Do I even want those kinds of friends? How come I’m not closer to my mom? Do I even want to be? Shouldn’t I be wanting to go to school dances? The answer to that question was a shudder.

The windows were open whenever possible – nine, even ten months a year – so she could listen to the sounds of the night birds and the movements of the night critters and the sighing of the night breezes in the woods behind the house; it was a routine that would carry over to her new apartment.

Next: Tuck’s new condo

© 2019 Dave Lager

Settings are important

“A novel grows out of a sense of place. A story might have some pompous theme but, really, its meaning must come from an organic relationship with its setting.”

Jane Langton (1922-2018)

Thanks, Jane, for helping me rationalize why I have thousands of words of “background” on my characters and their settings, most of which won’t – can’t – end up in the actual story narrative, but I’d certainly like to think informs where that narrative is going.

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