As in…

“Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.”

Aldous Huxley (1894-1965) – Novelist, philosopher

…trying to make some sense out of those experiences for myself and others through writing.

Sniper’s Day: An introduction

Early last year I shared a quote from James Michener – famous or infamous, depending on how you look at it, for his massive tomes – that very much resonated with me. He said, “Whenever I start a book, I swear it’s going to be a short one. But then it’s, ‘Who was his grandfather? And how did he get there in the first place? And what kind of animals is he chasing?’”

That’s exactly what happened to me with the “Story of Neshnala” series of posts in my blog last year that had begun as an intended half-dozen entries and grew to twenty-seven by the time I was done.

This time it was what started out as a three or maybe four chapter “cop incident” in the fourth Ro Delahanty novel, “Twists and Turns,” that I am currently drafting. It was going to be a shootout with a rogue ex-military sniper involving Ro after she becomes the designated marksman for a new multi-county Joint SWAT unit. My original intent was that it would be told entirely from Ro’s point of view in “Twists.”

But then, a la Michener, the questions began: But what kind of background would the sniper have? What led him to become a sniper in the first place? Why would this former military sniper go rogue? Was it just plain blood lust or did he miss “the game”? What would their encounter be like? What kind of chess-like moves would an experienced sniper use and what counter moves might a rookie sniper like Ro respond with? Wouldn’t it be interesting if I could tell the story from each of their respective points of view?

But trying to do that within the pages of “Twists” would mean the sniper story would virtually take over, making “Twists” into a very different book than I wanted it to be… So, the idea was planted and then grew and grew…

Ro’s point of view account of the sniper shootout will still consist of several chapters in “Twists and Turns.”

But his story – the sniper’s story – has turned into a thirty-nine chapter, nearly forty-thousand-word novella; what I now think of as a “companion” novella to “Twists” that I’m calling “Sniper’s Day.”

I hope – he said with fingers crossed – that “Twists” will be ready for publication roughly a year from now. At this point I’m not sure whether “Twists” and “Sniper’s Day” will be issued simultaneously as two separate books, or I will publish them together as a single book, “Twists” as the main book, “Sniper” as a bonus novella.

However, I like the “Sniper” story and don’t really want to sit on it for a year, maybe more, so starting next week I will share “Sniper’s Day” with you one chapter at a time. Hey, way back when it was common for magazines to serialize a novel a chapter at a time, wasn’t it? And a blog is sort of like an online magazine, isn’t it?

Think of yourselves as my beta readers of “Sniper’s Day.”

Next: “Sniper’s Day” cover and cover blurb

© 2019 Dave Lager

A little mad?

“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.”

Andre Gide (1869-1951) – Novelist, essayist, dramatist, Nobel laureate

I guess that makes all of us writers a little mad…

Settings #23 – The Twins killer condo in downtown Chicago

This is the final post in the Settings Series, not because I saved the best for last, but more like because this is the most difficult one to write. Certainly, the description of The Twins condo is quite straightforward, that’s not the problem. Rather it is explaining how that setting fits into the Ro saga.

The Twins are not even introduced until the second Ro novel, “The Celtic Riddle,” and then it is only in a few paragraphs of flashback. They are not mentioned at all in the third book, “Losses,” but make their reappearance in the fourth book, “Twists and Turns,” and will be featured prominently in that and subsequent books as I am now envisioning them.

Even though it would seem they have only a passing appearance in the first few books, the fact is they are a constant presence, not like a ghost, but more like what at first would seem to have been a forgettable routine life incident, but that later proves to have a lingering if unseen influence on Ro. I know I’m being more than a little cryptic here, but this is a case where I feel like I need to walk a tightrope between talking about them, but at the same time not revealing too much (spoiler alert).

Ro was introduced to The Twins in the fall of 2000, when she was an eighteen-year old freshman at Mississippi Valley Community College over in Grand Island on the Illinois side. Ro goes to visit her best friend, Atti Mehra, who is in the computer graphics program at Columbia College in Chicago. Atti sets-up a double date with these two rich guys known as The Twins, not because they are related but because they do everything together.

This is during what Ro later comes to think of as her Year on the Wild Side, when she explores partying and sex. Knowing her friend’s liberated attitudes, especially about sex, Ro assumes she’ll be expected to sleep with her date, which she kind looks forward to, broadening her sexual experience and so forth. Which literally turns out to be the case, as she and Atti switch beds and partners in the middle of the night. She even returns the following spring for a second encounter with The Twins.

The Twins’ real names are Tag Halvorson and Luke Comadai; both are independently wealthy and are big-time players in the party scene around Chicago. Their “killer” two-bedroom, luxury condominium is on an upper floor of a high rise on East Randolph St., looking down over Grant Park – when Ro visits for the first time they are watching the construction of what will later become Chicago’s Millennium Park – the lakefront is to the left and the Michigan Avenue skyline is on the right.

(The tall center building in the photo above is the Aon Tower; Tag’s and Luke’s condo is on an upper floor of the high-rise two buildings to the right.)

Although the condominium has a first-class kitchen – as well as an impressive wine cabinet – neither of the Twins cooks, so if they are having dinner guests of any kind they have a list of private chefs who they call to come over to cook for them; most of the time, though, they eat out at restaurants, rarely just the two of them.

Next to the kitchen is a large, casually furnished living room with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony and the spectacular view of the harbor, Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue.

Tag and Luke each have their own master bedroom suite on opposite sides of the kitchen-living room, each with a king size bed, a hot tub, its own bathroom and floor-to-ceiling views.

Of course, the young and still relatively naïve eighteen-year old Ro Delahanty was awe-struck by the understated opulence of The Twins ultimate bachelor’s seduction pad and their casual attitudes about spending money, but the recollection of her visit would linger and slowly take on significance over time because of how wonderful a lover Tag Halvorson had been. While all sorts of life circumstances would get in the way, it would be five years before Ro and Tag reconnect in “Twists and Turns.”

Next: I will be introducing “Sniper’s Day,” a novella.

© 2019 Dave Lager

I thought my pencil could compete with a baseball mitt

“Writers, particularly poets, always feel exiled in some way – people who don’t exactly feel at home, so they try to find a home in language.”

Natasha Trethewey (1966- ) – Two-time U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner

It’s funny, the snippets of memory we hold onto that later prove to be trenchant about who we would become. I was in junior high school, having just gotten turned on to writing. My uncle and his two sons came to visit. The two boys spent much of the afternoon in the backyard playing catch – they never went anywhere without their ball gloves. While I was invited to join them, the problem was I didn’t even own a baseball mitt. Instead, I spent most of the afternoon in my room writing a short science fiction scene that I wanted to read to my uncle because that is what I thought I was good at and could therefore successfully compete with my cousins. As I recall, my uncle was gracious enough to listen, but even as a kid I recognized his body language was saying he was only listening out of courtesy, not because he was at all impressed.

Hmm, maybe I’m still trying to impress that uncle with my computer keyboard…

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

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