A Trial Separation

In every courthouse where I’ve worked, the “holiday jury” scares lawyers. They fear twelve citizens imbued with Christmas spirit. Some worry about the wrath of people whose busy time has been interrupted. Others dread the mercy they may dole out sitting during the “peace on earth, good will” season. Twelve Amiable Men, bleary-eyed from an overdose of Hallmark holiday movies, might not mete out the justice the government seeks. Of course, the holiday jury might have been convenient cover for lawyers who didn’t want to work between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Avoiding a trial became a Christmas tradition.

In honor of the holiday jury, there will be no Trial-of-the-Month for December. Instead, I’d like to build on a different Christmas tradition. My friend and fellow blogger, Bruce Coffin, annually offers a short story. He weaves a poignant tale of the Christmas season. I hope you’ll look forward to it.

I’d like to offer another small story to join with Bruce’s. Although this tale likely won’t tug at your heartstrings, it might convince you to protect your ankles or wear a helmet during your December adventures.

May y’all have a safe and joyous holiday season.

Mark Thielman

Santa in the Cellblock

Just before the annual holiday takeoff, Dasher twisted his fetlock. He landed wrong during a hotly contested reindeer game. Although Dasher promptly buried his leg in a snowbank, a task easily accomplished at the North Pole, his hoof swelled up like a fruitcake. It looked round and brown but dotted with small green and red colored bits No one had ever seen a foreleg quite like it. He limped back to his stall with a heavy-hooved clop, clop, CLOP. The chief veterinarian ruled him, unable to travel with the sleigh on Santa’s busiest night of the year. Dasher couldn’t pass the flight protocols.

The lead job, therefore, got handed off to his protégé, Lightning. A highly decorated student, Lightning had been groomed for the top job. He had studied the manuals and memorized the procedures. Mostly, Santa liked his cockiness, his deering-do, he called it. Lightning stood as a study in leadership as the deer-collar was adjusted, the traces straightened, and the bells affixed. The calf, however, quickly learned that success in the simulator was not the same as flying in the real world; the decisions came faster, the air stung colder, the clouds cloaked thicker. The stars, when he could see them, appeared far more jumbled. As the sleigh flew south, high altitudes remained cold, even by North Pole standards. Ice crystals clotted his lashes, limiting his vision. Navigation, in short, proved unimaginably hard in the December sky of the Northern Hemisphere. Before long, the rookie reindeer found himself horribly and irrecoverably lost. Compounding the problem, Santa steadfastly refused to install a global positioning system. He insisted on piloting by earthly landmarks, the North Star, and a near total reliance upon his trusty team. He still slid down chimneys, even at the environmentally sensitive, “green” houses where the roofs were completely covered in solar panels. It was, perhaps, no coincidence that “Yule” rhymed with “Old School.”

By the time the sleigh flew over the Red River, crossing from Oklahoma into Texas, Lightning, lost and confused, started to get panicky. Fear welled within him. He hoped the city beneath his airborne hooves was Fort Worth, but it might have been Dallas or even Lubbock, Lightning wasn’t sure. He’d never seen Dallas from a drawn sleigh at night. Through the ice prisms clogging his lashes, he saw a flat roofed structure alongside a building with a tall green spire. If he could land, just for a moment, he thought to himself, he might thaw his face and get his bearings. He put the sleigh into a steep dive.

Santa felt himself thrown hard against the dash rail of the sleigh. The breath burst from his lungs, a cloud of frozen exhale exploded out of his beard. The G forces pressed against him. The sled pushed hard into his chest, squeezing the remaining air from him. Lightning snapped sharply out of the dive and landed with a lurch on the roof. Santa, again, launched backward. This time, Old St. Nick’s head struck the sleigh’s backboard with a resounding thwack.

Santa sat for a moment stunned, his brain scrambled and oxygen starved. Red and green spots, like those on Dasher’s foreleg, danced in front of Santa’s narrowed vision. Then, he stepped off the sleigh, staggered a bit, and shook his head. With a gloved hand, he grabbed the sack of toys that he had stowed. Santa stuck out his elfin tongue and tasted the air.

“Strange,” he said to no one. The crisp night air tasted like Fort Worth rather than Charleston, South Carolina, his intended destination. Again, he stuck his tongue out and gathered another mouthful. He rolled the flavors around, pursing his lips. The culinary gears spun beneath that great red hat as he struggled to place the familiar tastes. No salt air, no palmetto, rather natural gas with a soupçon of barbecue and old rodeo — it most definitely was Fort Worth.

“No matter. I’ve got to go there too. Although we do need to practice that landing.” Lightning kept his head down in shame. Santa peered inside the bag, adjusting it and trying to focus.  St. Nick shook his head, his beard dancing back and forth like a ship’s sail in a hurricane. Finally, he adjusted the contents, removing some toy sailboats and substituting cowboy gear. Not many tradeoffs were required. No matter where his sleigh landed, nearly every child wanted some electronic game or another these days. Santa blinked his eyes twice and made his way toward the chimney.

He quickly found the curved metal shaft. Odd, he thought, to see a chimney twisted this way. St. Nick paused at the opening and examined the heavy metal grate covering it. A small sign marked the entrance. Santa blinked and squinted, struggling to read the words, “Caution: Jail.”

“How sweet,” the jolly elf said out loud, “Jill has almost learned to spell her own name, yet she still wants me to be careful. That’s why I like helping good boys and girls.”

Summoning up that Kris Kringle magic, he squeezed his full body as well as his toy sack through the mesh grating.  

“Some serious squirrels must live around here,” he said as he began a slide down a chimney only an elf could traverse. He said it again as he slid through the next security screen as well as the next. Finally, he found himself deep in a network of air vents.

“Oh, bother,” said Santa. “It appears that it wasn’t a chimney after all.” He briefly considered going back to the roof. He quickly dismissed the idea with the unruffled demeanor of a jolly old elf, “This should get me to the Christmas tree, too.”

Pushing his bag of toys in front of him, Santa slid on his belly through the smooth aluminum duct work. Say what you will, he thought, the route maybe long, but it sure snags the suit less than the brick and mortar of old Victorian chimneys. Santa got lost a time or two. Perhaps, things would have gone more easily if his ears were not still ringing from that landing.

“I do hope they have milk and cookies at this house,” he mumbled. “I could use a break.”

After much effort, Santa dropped in a room, round and sparsely furnished. Eight little sleeping pods branched off this main room.

  “How quaint,” Santa thought, “like the petals on a flower.”

At the far end of the great room Santa saw that the parents had made their bedroom almost entirely out of glass, enabling them to keep a watch on their children. On the opposite side of the parents’ room, Santa saw another set of children’s bedrooms mirroring these.

“Remarkable,” he said aloud. “That many children and they still want to keep a constant vigil. What devoted parents.” The heavy doors were, he thought, a bit excessive for children’s rooms. “What if there was a fire? How could they get out?”

The parents did not seem to notice Santa’s appearance in the children’s playroom. Though they wore dark pajamas, perhaps to surprise him, Santa had become less concerned about meeting a stray adult than in the old days. He remained invisible to most grownups. One older boy, however, sat alone at an octagonal table. The boy wore his green onesie. Almost ready for bed, St. Nick knew.

“Still working on his letter to Santa,” the old elf said to himself, smiling. The boy’s list must fill the page for he could see that the lad had drawn pictures on his arms of the toy guns he wanted. Despite his many years, Santa remained soft-hearted for a true believer.

Santa generally avoided contact with children on Christmas Eve. His heart, however, went out to lonely boys and girls. And, with his ears ringing and his head still spinning, he wanted to rest for a few minutes. He plopped heavily down onto the bench across from the boy.

The boy eyed him, saying nothing.

“Did you write a letter?” St. Nick asked, his eyes still not too lively or quick.

The boy remained silent.

Clearly, Santa thought, he was too stunned to speak. “A letter to the big man in charge,” Santa prompted, “telling him what you want?”

“My attorney says he is working on one,” the pajama-clad boy answered.

Santa really did shake when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. Utterly adorable, Santa thought, the way the boy said his lawyer wrote his letter.

Santa reached out his arm offering a red striped treat. “Candy cane?”

The boy nodded. “She is one of my favorite dancers. That’s why I go to the XTC Club.”

Santa looked confused. 

The young fellow’s eyes surveyed him, examining his clothes from collar to toe. “How did you get the red suit?”

 “It’s because of the flight,” Santa answered.

 “Yep, I figured,” the boy answered, “Flight risk, that’s how most guys get red suited around here. What’s your name?

 “Oh, I have many names,” the jolly elf said.

 “Lots of the fellas do,” the boy said. “If they fingerprint ya, they’ll figure it out. What are you in for?”

“I’m in here to deliver,” Santa said.

The boy nodded in agreement. “Yep, that’s what got me in here too.”

Santa slid close to the boy on the metal bench. “Tell me what you want for Christmas.” He hoped the boy said, Peace on Earth. He loved it when teenagers saw the big picture.

“I want my lawyer to get me a habeas corpus.”

Santa nodded knowingly. In truth, he didn’t have the foggiest idea what the “Happiest Porpoise” was. He left the boy a smiling dolphin doll and candy canes for all his friends. He’d have the elves do more research before next Christmas Eve.


You have the right to remain silent

The real story behind Miranda vs. Arizona

by Isabella Maldonado

For today’s post, I interview retired Phoenix Police Detective Timothy Moore, who has become a subject matter expert on the history of one of the most important legal decisions in US history. He wrote MIRANDIZED NATION, a book about the fascinating history behind this case and the 1966 US Supreme Court decision, which has become a true crime favorite.

Common paraphernalia used by police detectives in the 1960’s

IM: What do people (and TV and Hollywood producers) get wrong about the Miranda case?

TM: Most people in the US understand that the Miranda decision requires police to advise suspects of certain Constitutional rights before conducting an interrogation. There is, however, more to it. As of now, Miranda Warnings are only required if a suspect is in custody and if a law enforcement officer is going to ask specific questions about a specific crime. Miranda does not attach unless both of these circumstances are present.

IM: What new light does MIRANDIZED NATION shed on a story most people think they know all about?

TM: In the book, I try to explain why we have the Miranda Rights, how the US Supreme Court decision changed the way law enforcement treats citizens in police custody, how the Phoenix PD adjusted to the new law, and most importantly, how the Miranda Warnings helped police departments nationwide become more professional.

IM: Who was Miranda?

TM: Ernesto “Ernie” Miranda was a serial sexual predator who was arrested for the kidnapping, assault, rape, and robbery of an 18-year-old woman. He was also charged with similar crimes against other women in 1959, 1962, and 1963. In researching the book, I discovered exactly how he committed the crime for which his surname became a household name, and why Arizona courts found him guilty on all charges. Miranda lived a violent life and died a violent death. In the end, it fell to the Phoenix PD to solve his murder.

Actual arrest photo, fingerprint card, and lineup used in the Miranda case

IM: How did you get access to behind the scenes information?

TM: Fortunately, I’m on the board of the Phoenix Police Museum with retired Phoenix Police Captain Carroll Cooley. He was the detective who arrested Ernesto Miranda in 1963. In talking with Cooley, I discovered new details about the arrest and wondered why even PPD officers don’t know the true history behind this landmark case. I thought it was time someone told the complete story in a concise nonfiction book while it was still possible to garner firsthand accounts.

IM: Besides Captain Cooley, what sources did you use?

TM: I used primary sources, examining Phoenix Police reports, government documents, newspaper articles and texts. The most interesting part of the research was personally interviewing retired detectives and Ernesto Miranda’s family members.

IM: The book reads like a well-executed docu-drama. I couldn’t put it down. Was it a challenge to turn all of this factual information into a story with a narrative format that would hold a reader’s interest?

TM: I knew I had a massive amount of information on my hands after all that research, and I didn’t want to write a dry textbook. In order to put it into a format that would make a compelling read, I brought in Clark Lohr, an author in his own right and an English major. Clark prevented the book from resembling a police report. The Phoenix metro chapter of Sisters in Crime, Desert Sleuths, assisted with editing and blurbs came from Arizona historians who enjoyed the book.

IM: It certainly worked out well. MIRANDIZED NATION is history that reads like a novel. In fact, there are a lot of little known and bizarre facts about the case that your book brings to light. I found the story of Twila Hoffman particularly jaw-dropping.

TM: Ms. Hoffman was Miranda’s common-law wife. While he was waiting for his trial de novo after the conviction was overturned, he hatched what he thought was a foolproof scheme to avoid a second conviction. He told Ms. Hoffman that he could avoid prison by marrying the girl he was accused of raping. He reasoned that, if she was his spouse, she would never be able to testify against him. Problem solved.

IM: Okay, so Ernie wasn’t a legal scholar. Or a paragon of virtue. You write that he explained to Ms. Hoffman that since she was “only” his common-law wife, that marriage didn’t count and he was free to marry his victim. Then, to top it all off, he had the audacity to ask Ms. Hoffman to go see the girl and negotiate the nuptials.

TM: Yeah, I imagine he was surprised when Ms. Hoffman ended up testifying against him at the new trial. The defense tried to get her testimony suppressed, but the judge ruled it admissible. Since it included a confession that he had in fact raped the girl, he was done.

IM: It didn’t end well for Ernie. In many ways. Thanks for writing such a great book, and for documenting everything that happened while we still have eyewitness accounts. I also salute you for your decades of public service.

Here is a link if you want to purchase MIRANDIZED NATION.

Nothin’ But Net: A Modest (Holiday) Proposal

by Roger Johns

With the gift-giving season almost upon us, it won’t be long before the economists, those bloodless practitioners of the dismal science, will soon be at it again. They’ll offer to free us from the stress of holiday shopping with their assurances that “studies show” cash is the most efficient gift. Two things about this bother me. First, is the phrase studies show––that dispiriting signifier of the tyranny-of-the-expert under whose shadow we increasingly live. More troubling, though, is the notion that gift-giving should be viewed as an exercise in efficiency.

            Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but if the thought is a cost-benefit analysis, who suffers the cost and who gets the benefit? Given our frenetic lifestyles, should we feel gratified we’ve been thought of at all? Sorry, I’m not buying it. The giver had 365.25 days to come up with something that conveys a warmer message than: ‘Here’s some cash. Buy your own gift.’

            Instead of efficiency, perhaps we should focus on the effect of the gift. I know of no studies validating this approach, but experience tells me the most uplifting presents memorialize connections between giver and recipient, or connect the recipient to some happy or important moment.

            For example, a year after I and my then-girlfriend (now-wife) began dating, I gave her a scrapbook filled with mementos from our time together: the scorecard from our first golf game (she won), the fortune cookie fortune that came true (I won), a handful of pumpkin seeds (don’t ask), and so on. And all the items were linked by a storyline recounting that first year of romance. It was absurdly inefficient, but extremely effective––“then-girlfriend (now-wife)” is your clue.

            Years later, after suffering through repeated tales of my charmed summer at sleep-away camp, my wife secretly arranged for me to relive those days. Until I saw the sign announcing our destination, I had no idea why we had struck out on an hours-long drive into the mountains of northern Alabama where I got to spend a glorious afternoon revisiting a time and a place that had glowed in my memory since childhood. That my unbelievably busy wife would arrange such an extravagantly inefficient adventure left me feeling rather important.

            But, for you unpersuadables still committed to the cash-is-king paradigm, allow me a modest proposal to improve your efficiency. Imagine you’re part of a gift giving group––a family, for instance––and suppose you intend to give your sibling a $100 gift card and your sibling intends to give you a $75 card. Efficiency dictates these amounts should be netted out so you give your sibling $25, and your sibling gives you nothing.

            Because we can all agree that such an outcome violates the spirit of the season by leaving one person looking like a big spender at the expense of the other, you should consider using a gift matching app. The app maintains the anonymity of the givers until all gifts are finalized. Until then, it compares proposed amounts and gently urges low-givers to be more generous: “Someone special wants to give you $50. Why not make them feel just as special by upping your offer to $50?”

            And you’ll never have to worry about an arms race of ever-escalating amounts with each group member jockeying to avoid the stigma of being the cheapskate. As any economist will tell you, and as the app is programmed to suggest, the most efficient approach is to simply offer whatever someone is offering to give you. That way, no one is shamed as low-giver, no one gets to feel superior, and most importantly, all gifts will be netted out to zero, becoming “net gifts”, so no one is troubled with the dreaded inefficiency of giving anyone anything. Plus, if you go big from the get-go you will make everyone feel like a player, because the app will encourage them to match your over-the-top offers, secure in the knowledge that equal gifts negate the need to cough up any cash.

            As an alternative, everyone could simply pretend they’ve gone through all the hassle of matching apps, and gift proposals, and low-giver anxiety and arrived at the inevitable give-no-money conclusion. At this point, freed from the obligation to demonstrate your gift-giving efficiency, you could just spend part of the day (together or on the phone) giving the most important thing you have––your time––to the most important people in your life.

            If you’re still unpersuaded and you still feel the need to play the game, keep in mind that, as a testament to all your hypothetical largesse, the app will generate printable certificates commemorating what you and the special people in your life almost did for each other. And, as the years roll by, imagine what happy campers you’ll be as you page through scrapbooks filled with net-gift certificates.

NOTE: The gift-matching app described above is entirely fictional . . . at least I hope it is.

Roger Johns is the author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries––Dark River Rising and River of Secrets–– from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Please visit him at roger.johns@rogerjohnsbooks.com.

When to Revise the Story We Tell Ourselves

Micki Browning

I recently attended the 50th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, in Dallas, Texas. As far as conferences go, this is the biggie, and there were over 1700 book lovers in attendance. I was one of four authors who participated in the Career Crimes panel, which addressed the careers of our protagonists—and of course, the why behind our choices. 

For those who don’t know me, I’m a cop by profession, a medievalist by education, a scuba diver by choice, and a writer by…compulsion? The protagonist of my first two books is Mer Cavallo, a teuthologist—a marine scientist who specializes in the study of cephalopods, specifically octopuses. The question often posed to me is why, in light of my 22 years of experience in law enforcement, didn’t I create a professional sleuth? 

The short answer is I tried. The result of that first attempt is languishing on my hard drive because as bad as it is, I can’t bring myself to delete it. 

The longer response is that in the beginning, I hadn’t yet learned how to dribble bits of my experience into the narrative, and like over-salting a stew, that lack of restraint overpowered the other elements of my story. I also recognized that I needed to decompress after so many years in a high-stress profession. 

Neither of these answers would register deceptive on a polygraph test. Yet the truth that held me back was more elemental. I was scared. Law enforcement is akin to a masters-level course in humanity. I’d risen through the ranks, held numerous specialty positions, retired as a captain. What if something I wrote was wrong?

Now, it’s no secret that novelists get things wrong all the time. Sometimes it is intentional, because, let’s face it, facts should never get in the way of a good story. They just have to conform to the world the author built. It’s the unintentional error that pops readers out of the story and cause them to throw the book across the room. 

As a younger woman, I had considered being a marine biologist—until I realized biology was a pretty hefty part of the program. And yes, I recognize the irony of choosing to write about a woman who held an advanced degree in a discipline that was beyond my ken, when I was reluctant to write about a profession I had experienced first hand. But I’m a curious person and I love research.

My mysteries take place in the Florida Keys. In the first book, a crime occurs underwater. In the second, a nautical archeological component runs through the mystery. I had the diving aspect down pat. I also had the theoretical knowledge of underwater investigations, but darned if I didn’t have to research the practical aspect of working an underwater crime scene.

I learned two things from the experience:

1.  Research is your friend

2.  No one knows all there is to know about a topic— even if he or she is a subject matter expert.

The cop who claims never to be scared is a liar. Fear is a survival instinct that good cops learn to listen to, and then manage. Writers fear many things, but most often it is the fear of failure (and each writer tailors the definition of failure to fit their own fear).  I owe Mer a debt of gratitude. That character taught me how to tell a story. She stood next to me as I revised my mistakes into more honest truths. Mer even introduced me to a new character, a police detective who now has her own story. She makes a mistake—a couple of them, in fact. But the detective owns them, learns from them, and refuses to let the errors stop her from achieving her goals. 

As writer Elbert Hubbard observed, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”

Writing Spaces and Places

By Brian Thiem: Last week I posted a photo of my writing desk on social media and received a lot of comments. I’ve also been following my many author friends during their jaunt to Dallas for Bouchercon, where their writing juices are being replenished to help them crank out the successive thousand word days when they get home. It got me thinking about our personal sacred writing spaces and places where we create the stories others love to read.

I’ve written on my back porch, in the family room, on the kitchen counter, and countless other places in my house. I’ve also written during travels from the west coast to the east and countless foreign countries. Wherever I go, I normally take my laptop so I can write.

Although all I need to write is my laptop, the screen isn’t large enough for two windows opened simultaneously, and after a few hours of work, my old body, plagued with plenty of military and cop-career injuries, is feeling it in the neck, back, and hands.

I prefer writing in my own space, where I have everything at my fingertips—reference files, notes, books. Where I can control my environment and shut out distractions when necessary. I do most of my writing at my desk, where my laptop (a 13-inch Lenovo ThinkPad) snaps into a docking station that’s hooked to two external monitors, a quality keyboard that actually makes an audible click when a key is depressed, a LaserJet printer, and mouse. The external monitor is large enough to show my working manuscript on the right and my plot outline on the left side of one screen. I often bring up my character list (because I forget character names sometimes.) I can use the other monitor for reference and research. I have room to scatter papers and notes all around me on the computer table and desk. At my desk, I sit up straight with everything in the right ergonomic position.

After an hour or two at my desk, I try to take a break, and will often find myself in my reading chair. That’s also where I normally begin a new project, brainstorming and jotting down ideas that will eventually become a plot outline. That chair is where I frequently read one of the many novels on my TBR (to be read) pile that resides on the coffee table. I’ll admit I might also lie on the sofa to read, but somehow that position seems to make my eyelids heavy.

Annie, who’s been my writing companion for seven years, her own spot in the corner of my office. She’s not much of a critic though—she’s just as content watching me write garbage as a potential bestseller.

So, fellow writers, where do you write? Tell me about your space. Attach photos.

Happy Anniversary

Bruce Robert Coffin here, revisiting a blog originally penned for Maine Crime Writers several years ago. I’ve updated the content to reflect the passage of time, but my message remains heartfelt.

This Tuesday, October 29th, Karen and I will celebrate our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. Thirty-four years! Why, it seems like only yesterday that the two of us met (38 years ago). She a promising young cashier at a local supermarket (no longer there) and me an up and coming bagger of groceries. It was February and it was snowing. Our shift was nearing its end and the store was preparing to close (there were no twenty-four hour grocery stores back then). I was watching her walk outside to a row of shopping carriages, nestled up to the front wall of the building, right next to Bookland (also gone), when I made my move. She was looking plenty hot in her hunter orange cashier smock and name tag. I don’t recall exactly how I approached the subject of a date but I’m sure it was something suave and debonaire like: “Hey baby, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this.” Anyway, whatever I said won her over because she said “yes”. And so we made a plan. Our first date was to be the night of the 15th. Yup that’s right, February 15th. Of course a more intelligent guy would have aimed for the 14th, Valentines Day, scoring a few points on the romantic front while simultaneously ensuring that if things worked out (and they have) I wouldn’t have to celebrate two days in February…

At last, the big night arrived. I picked her up at her house in South Portland. We were both dressed up and grinning, a lot. My stomach was in an absolute knot. We drove to The Jerry Lewis Theater (also gone, you might remember it as the aptly named Maine Mall Cinema) where we attended a screening of the newest blockbuster, Indiana Jones, starring Harrison Ford. We shared some light hors d’oeuvres in the form of soda and popcorn and I think I may have even slyly put my arm around her shoulders.

After the movie we drove to dinner, one parking lot over. I wanted her to experience the fine cuisine at the Maine Mall Pizza Hut (also gone). Yup, I know what you’re thinking, big spender. Hey, this guy knew how to live. To this day nothing beats the culinary delight of a pan pizza and an extra large Dr. Pepper. My wife tells a story of being horrified as she watched me swipe a piece of Pizza Hut silverware as a memento of our first date. Now, let me state unequivocally for the record that I have absolutely no recollection of said swiping. Hell, I went on to become a police officer. She must have me confused with some other dashing young man she dated, with kleptomaniacal tendencies. Either way, since the statute of limitations on such a heinous crime has long since expired, if I had swiped said cutlery and given it to her as a first date keepsake, the fact that we are still together only speaks of her fondness for the “bad boys”. It would also have made her a co-conspirator and guilty of theft by receiving. Luckily nothing like the transgression for which I’m falsely accused actually took place. But I digress. Following a lovely dinner at Casa de Pizza, I drove her home where we “chatted” for a while before I bid her adieu. Promising to see her at work the following week.

Well, we’ve been seeing each other ever since. After a torrid three and a half year courtship (I never kiss and tell. You want details, wait for the book.), I asked for her hand in marriage. Again she said “yes”. I am either extremely lucky or one sweet-talking son of a gun. I’m leaning toward lucky. We married in secret, on our only day off together, in the middle of the week, sneaking off to a JOP at a realtor’s office on Forest Avenue in Portland, next to the American Journal newspaper (Yup, you guessed it, both gone.) Our witnesses were two of the office staff, very nice ladies. I remember being so nervous that they could have sold us a house and I wouldn’t have known it. We were dressed to the nines, her in a lovely flowered blouse and long dark skirt, me in tan slacks, button-down shirt with a tie, and my best blue polyester sport coat with the plastic buttons. Sharp. We celebrated by dining at DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant, which, I’m happy to report, we didn’t put out of business. Steve, if you’re reading this, I swear to God there was no swiping of utensils. Afterward, we drove around visiting various relatives, informing them that we had gotten hitched.

Together we have travelled many miles since then, o’re hill and dale. We’ve shared the best and worse that life has to offer. Said goodbye to friends and loved-ones and welcomed new. We’ve struggled at times, prospered at others, but never have we quit. She is my best friend, my confidant, my lover, and my biggest fan. And I know she feels the same of me, because I am. This life is short, sometimes exhilarating, often hard, but it can be oh so sweet with the right companion, walking hand in hand beside you.

Happy anniversary, Craze. I love you.

John School

person smoking across city building during nighttime
Photo by Маша Реймерс on Pexels.com

I used to be a prostitute.
Or more precisely, I used to be a prostitution decoy for the city of Buffalo back in the 1990s.
The crack epidemic had hit the city pretty hard in the early 90s and the overall quality of life was suffering. My bosses in the downtown district recognized that prostitution had become a huge problem: women were getting propositioned walking to the store; the prostitutes were openly standing on corners at all hours of the day and night. The women and men – we tend to forget or ignore that men are out there too – were all feeding their addictions to drugs and alcohol. I hate to use the word “all” but I never, in my 22 years as a police officer, met a street level hooker that was not addicted to something.
Community policing was a huge buzzword at the time and my bosses came up with a creative solution to try to curb prostitution in the neighborhoods without punishing the streetwalkers, and maybe getting them some help.
I was a twenty-five-year-old cop at the time when my supervisors asked me to go out on the street and see if anyone would proposition me. Understand that in Buffalo streetwalkers do not wear high heels and short skirts. I would put on an old tee shirt and dirty jeans, rub mascara and purple eye shadow under my eyes to make them look hollowed out, and tuck a half-smoked cigarette butt behind my ear. I’d just stand on a corner, it didn’t matter where, or what time of day it was, and in less than ten minutes I’d be getting propositioned. There was no “type” – the men were young and old, well-off and poor, and from every walk of life. Once I got the proposition, I’d give my backup the signal and the four cops in the two undercover cars watching me would swoop in and arrest the guy.
This is where it got creative. My backup officers would take the John down to headquarters, impound his vehicle and book him. He’d be given an appearance ticket and sent home to explain to his significant other what happened to his car. When it came time for court, most of the Johns were offered the same plea: fines and mandatory attendance at a “John School.” The school was a one-day class that included lectures from local health care professionals about the health risks they were putting themselves and their wives/girlfriends in. Former streetwalkers would come in and talk about the reality of the suffering and misery of their lives. Some of the money the Johns paid in fines went to programs to help prostitutes get off the streets.
I was proud to be a part of such an innovative solution to an age-old problem. Jail was not the answer for either the streetwalkers or the Johns. I got to see firsthand what life was like for these women and men, and how devastating and all-consuming the addiction is. I also found out that criminals treat hookers like part of the scenery. I saw drug deals go down, thefts, and car break-ins. All of those incidental arrests contributed to cleaning up the neighborhoods and taught me a valuable lesson that I took with me when I became a detective later on in my career: prostitutes are excellent sources of information. They became my go-to when I needed to know what people were saying or doing on the street. I treated them with the same respect and dignity as any other citizen, but I definitely treated them with more compassion after seeing the world through their eyes.
The John School was not invented in Buffalo. Our department had modeled the program after others being implemented around the country at the time. I don’t know if there are any still up and running. But for one long, hot summer in 1996, I got to see the world from street level, and I never looked at things the same way again