Friday, May 29, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Under Seige

Detective Hussey is back to his lighthearted look at a cop's life. Some days you win, some you lose. Sometimes you're just glad when it's over.

When you're twenty-three years old, wearing a badge and gun is the most exciting thing in the world. All young cops are a little badge heavy, most are a lot badge heavy. Hopefully you make it through those years without getting hurt or fired and get to the point where you have some common sense. In those formidable years however, it is common to have what cops call Wyatt Earp Syndrome. This occurs when you watch too many Hollywood cop shows and labor under the misapprehension that you are invincible. When some guy who stands six-five and weighs 300 pounds tells you, "You ain't takin' me to jail."

Then you, being the stupid rookie that you are, smile and say, "We'll see." If you're lucky, it works out. You also count on the fact that most people (in the old days) respect the badge and uniform enough not to challenge it. Sometimes you're wrong, and sometimes, the person or persons you least expect to be a problem, turn out to be the ones who are the worst.

In February 1980, it was unseasonably warm in Lakeland. I was working the day shift with Sergeant "Pistol" Pete Petersen. Lunch was over and we were waiting for four o'clock so we could go home. I was talking to some chick at Grove Park shopping center when I got the call, something about car keys being stolen. It didn't sound like much. It was 3:00.

I went to the Gulf station and saw the complainant walking toward my car as I pulled in. She seemed agitated. "Yes, ma'am, what can I do for you?" I asked.

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"Well," she said, "I brought my car in this morning, and dropped it off here at Jim's Gulf station, to have the oil changed and the car washed." I nodded and scribbled on my pad. "I left the keys in the ignition and the door unlocked like I always do. When I came back, this afternoon, I found this note."

The lady thrust a small piece of white paper in my direction. I unfolded it and read the blue ink message scrawled there: I have your keys, if you want them back, come to 814 E. Orange St.

"Do you know anyone at 814 E. Orange Street?" I inquired.

"Of course not. But I did go to that address, and found a man there."

"What did he say?"

"Well, what I could understand, cause' he couldn't talk too plain, he said I'll give you your keys back for twenty dollars."

"You're kidding."

"No, and then when I threatened to call the police, he said, 'Go ahead, I am the police', and he flashed a gold badge."

Now there's nothing that makes a cop's blood boil like someone impersonating the po-lice. We work so hard for the privilege of wearing the badge, and people who pretend really hack us off.

I told the lady to wait at the gas station, and I drove the block to the address. I had a general description, including clothing, of the suspect. As I pulled up out front, the house seemed vaguely familiar. I thought I'd been here before, but couldn't remember what for. After several knocks on the door, with no answer, I got back into my cruiser and drove back to the gas station.

As I got out of my car to take the additional information from the victim, she pointed down Ingraham Avenue and yelled, "There he is."

A small man, fitting the description given to me earlier was walking away from us. The man had a small boy with him. Oh shit. I knew him all right. It was Jerry Gettings, a local derelict and part time whino, full time schemer and pain in the ass. "Hey Jerry," I yelled. "Comeer."

Now Jerry was an entrepreneur. He was always devising a plan to separate the public from their hard earned dollars. No big money, just enough to be illegal. Once, when the Lakeland Commission had made a decision to close the city jail and make housing prisoners the responsibility of the Polk County Sheriff, I found Jerry parading up and down in front of the post office, drumming on a coffee can, yelling "Save our jail, Save our jail" in his raspy voice. He wore a sandwich sign, with large crudely painted words, "Support the Save Our Jail Fund." In the coffee can was about twelve dollars. I ran Jerry off, confiscated his sign and gave the money to the Salvation Army. It was a typical Jerry Gettings operation.

Jerry and the boy turned around to look at me, but kept on walking. "Don't make me run you down," I said. Again, a quick look with no effort to stop. I looked at the victim and she gave me that, Well are you going to do something look. I broke into a half-hearted run and caught up with Jerry and the youngster of about ten, near Ingraham and U.S. Hwy 98.

"'?" I panted as I caught my breath.

Jerry had some type of medical problem. I suspected throat cancer. He talked in a very staccato, raspy voice, and if you hadn't talked to him before, he was difficult to understand. "Leave-me-a-lone," he barked as he continued to walk.

"Get your ID out, Jerry and tell me about the lady's car keys."

"I-don't-have-her damn-keys," Jerry said.

"Look, if you don't give those keys back right now, I'm takin' your ass to jail."

"No-you-ain't. I'm-with-my-son-leave-us-alone." He took a drink from a carton of chocolate milk.

I made up my mind then that Jerry was going to take the ride. The lady at the car wash would surely give me a sworn statement, and I would be able to lock him up on extortion charges, and if I could find the badge, I'd make the impersonating an officer charge. I reached up and took Jerry by the shoulder and felt him stiffen. We were standing on the sidewalk, but right next to the walk, the ground rose about two feet and was uneven. Jerry braced himself and tucked his arms into his side.

"Give me your hands, Jerry." I yelled.

"You leave my daddy alone!" the little boy cried.

"If he'll just cooperate, he won't have any trouble," I said. I finally got one of his hands free, but it was the wrong hand; the chocolate milk went flying and covered my uniform pants, running down into my shoes. Now I was pissed.

I got a cuff on and when I did, Jerry pulled forward, pulling us both off balance. I tried to catch myself, but it was too late. We both toppled forward, me on top of Jerry, who was screaming at the top of his hoarse lungs. I was still attempting to get the other hand out from under him, when I felt something hard hit my left side.

"Leave my daddy alone!" the crying little boy shouted, as he kicked me as hard as he could in my side. I couldn't grab the kid; I'd have to let go of Jerry.

Now I was yelling. "Get outa' here kid." I tried to turn away from the kicking juvenile.

"Stop," he shrieked as he kicked me again and again. It was then that I saw my third nemeses. In the backyard of the corner house, just 50 feet away, was a small brown terrier, racing toward the melee, teeth barred. As he slid into the pile of bodies, I felt his small, sharp teeth, scrape my leg as he latched on to my pant leg, just above my sock. He was pulling my pants, the kid was kicking me and Jerry and I were screaming.

It was about this time the phones at the Lakeland Police Department began to light up. Officer Bobby Smith was working the PBX and got the first call. "You better get somebody down to Orange and Ingraham," the caller said. "You've got a cop gettin' the shit beat outa him." Other calls came in. The description of the fight varied from caller to caller. One lady said, "Some pig is hassling an old man and his kid and dog. I don't think that's right."

One thing was for sure, assistance was needed. The greatest sound in the world when you're in trouble is the sound of sirens in the distance. The first guy to arrive was my Sergeant, Pete Peterson. Ole' Pete was laughing so hard he could hardly get Jerry and me separated and Jerry cuffed. Jerry's son ran home to call his mother, and the lady who owned the house called "Twizzle" back to his yard and apologized.

"You look like hell. Pete giggled as he helped me search the prisoner. I really did. I was covered with dirt and chocolate milk, and my uniform pants were ripped. My hat had fallen in the bushes and was stepped on.

I found the keys to the lady's car in Jerry's pocket. Surprise. Pete found the badge, which had the words Special Officer emblazoned across the front. He was special, all right.

The lady who owned the car turned out to be a bitch, as I would soon learn, and refused to prosecute Jerry or provide a sworn statement.

I arrested Jerry on resisting arrest charges and he beat me out of the station while I was still writing the report.

The guys would always refer to the incident as the "Menage-a-massacre", or the day Hussey got his ass kicked.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Storyboards and Freedom Trains

What I'm reading: The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly

Reminder: There's still time left to win a grab-bag full of goodies in my May contest. Details here

My submission for a free read at Cerridwen Press was officially accepted last night. It's nice to have something in the hopper again. Only hassle is all the paperwork. They haven't revised their boilerplate from the one they use for their full-length paid books, so half the nice check boxes aren't appropriate, and they don't have the ones you need. Lots of improvising.

In addition, I decided to drag out the white foam core board I'd stashed behind the futon and see if I could stimulate a little brain activity on my newest WIP while my crit group continues to work on my revisions of STARTING OVER. I'm trying the PJ Parrish suggestion of just writing scenes you think you can use in the book and sticking them onto the board. I have two boards; one for the little Post-its with things like scenes and plot points, and then another one I made a couple of years ago, marked off into blocks for chapters. But I only used it after I'd already written the chapters.

We'll see what happens this time. It's as close to plotting as I've come yet. The post-it system might be a good way for me to figure out my family trees – I've got at least 3 generations to deal with.

I also got a quick kick of motivation when a distant relative posted an article about the Leica Freedom Train to our family group. I'm not a history buff, so this was totally new to me.

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The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product - precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during the Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany's most famous photographic product, saved its Jews.

And Ernst Leitz II, the steely-eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, "The photography industry's Schindler."

As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for his help in getting them and their families out of the country. As Christians, Leitz and his family were immune to Nazi Germany's Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited their professional activities.

To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "the Leica Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.

You can read more here:

I know that the back story of several of the characters playing around in my head includes World War II, and this gave me some good ideas to work with.

Be sure to check in tomorrow for my regular Friday feature, a chapter from Detective Mark Hussey's manuscript. For the record – I do NOT write these. Detective Hussey is a real, live law enforcement officer who has a knack for storytelling. I'm merely the messenger.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


What I'm reading: Heart of the Wolf, by Terry Spear

First, thanks to hubby for finding time to write yesterday's blog, and to provide all the videos. Anyone who knows him at all would find the reference to the strapless evening gown a no-brainer. He's even got the book (and yes, it made the 'save' pile during the clutter clearing).

Uncertainty. We followed all the 'rules' the Realtor set out. We met the Realtor's deadline for having the house ready to show. It's on the MLS site. There's a lockbox on the front door. But that doesn't mean we can relax and resume our normal lives. No, we have to remember to forward our phones when we go out. And when we go out for any length of time, we have to leave the house 'showable' just in case a Realtor brings a potential buyer without calling first. Or we can't get back in time to make sure everything is put away properly, because we're at the movies watching Star Trek.

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Keeping a house neat and clean is one thing. But finding the compromises that allow you to live a normal life at the same time will take some getting used to. Things we leave on counters or tables because it's convenient to have them handy aren't 'acceptable' for best viewing. Lights need to be left on (hate what that's going to do to our electric bill), because we don't want Realtor's trying to figure out which switch turns on which light. Some of our paddle fan lights are switched at the wall; others have pull chains.

One of the things we did when we cleared away a POD load of clutter was create some empty cabinets where we can stash stuff to get it out of sight at a moment's notice. It's just remembering to do it all before running errands on the off chance someone might come by.

Today I found myself at the store buying things like cookie dough in case we have enough notice to bake a few cookies for enticing aromas. And Moroccan scented air-freshener (supposed to be like a spice bazaar, but I beg to differ) in case we don't.

Another challenge. If someone wants to show the house, we're not supposed to be here. Hubby's spending a lot of time at the office, and he has a very casual dress code. (There isn't one; he wears shorts, t-shirts and Tevas). I, on the other hand, will go to the Y, work out, come home, have breakfast, hit my blog stops, have another cup of coffee, and take care of basic household bookkeeping chores. I might edit yesterday's writing. Often, it's late morning before I hit the shower and get dressed.

But now I have to revamp the routine so I'm showered, dressed, and presentable enough to go out in public should I need to. Take care of making the bed, washing breakfast dishes, etc. My goal. Have everything ready before 10 in case there's a last-minute call.

None of this would be a problem IF there were rewards. Like people actually calling to see the house. Or knowing we have to do this for a finite length of time. But there's no schedule for this. It could be two weeks, two months, six months, a year. Or more. It's kind of like passing your due date in pregnancy. There's no end in sight (although it's unlikely to go on TOO much longer.)

Maybe a better comparison is sending the query to the agent, or the manuscript to the editor. Most have 'approximate response times' that may or may not have any basis in reality. The average number of days a house is on the market has little or no meaning. All you can do as a writer is write the best book you can. All we can do as house sellers is make our house the best it can be.

We'll see what this does to the stress level. Writing? I have a new editor at Cerridwen. Last week, I sent her a short story submission for their free reads program. The idea is to have stories that will tie into the author's published books, with hopes that readers will be enticed to buy them after reading the short. She said she'd get back to me within two weeks. This morning, I found this in my inbox:

Hi Terry, I read this over the weekend…
My only regret is the length. It’s too short. I wanted it to go on and on. :) I thought it was one of more original things I’d read in a long time; very funny and creative and readers won’t get confused if they haven’t read the two books.

That was a definite ego-boost. True, it'll be a free download. But it's not the cost of the product that matters. It's quality. And to have an editor give praise like, "I wanted it to go on and on" is about the best praise an author can hope for. And since it's unlikely she's read Finding Sarah and Hidden Fire, which are the books it's tied to, she made the perfect reader. Enough to entice, not confuse, and no serious spoilers.

So now maybe I've got the motivation I need to get back to my WIP.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Today, I welcome the hubby to Terry's Place. When I first invited guests to my blog, I asked if he'd like to do a piece. I was surprised when he said he would, and then a bit nervous, because he got that evil glint in his eyes. He said he'd be writing about living with a writer. Not just any writer. Me. But when he turned in his blog post, it was totally different. All the recent upheavals in our lives have affected him too. And he's man enough to admit it.

Welcome, Dan.

When I agreed to do a guest blogger spot I really had no idea what I was going to write about. Well, I did, but ……. defines Physiological Stress as ‘a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism’.

I do like to read about physical stresses on structures like bridges and tall buildings. Have you ever seen the classic video of the Tacoma Narrows bridge in the wind?

Or, how about this paper on the strapless evening gown?

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Stress is normal and is a part of the everyday lives of animals and plants. Put yourself in the place of the mouse being chased by a cat. I’d say that’s pretty stressful – for the mouse. Fight or Flight. The carnivorous rabbit - “Run away, run away!”

Defining what ‘normal’ is can get tricky and in humans is probably specific to the individual and may change over time. However, too much stress can lead to all sort physiological dysfunctions, immune suppression and things that I am not qualified to discuss. (And look what happened to the bridge!)Have you ever come down with a cold [rhinovirus – I like the word] after a particularly stressful period of time?).

Lots of things in everyday life cause stress and these factors have changed over time. Waaaaay back in the day, our ancestors had to worry about being eaten by large carnivores. This isn’t very common these days but if you live in Alaska it could be an issue. And, there have been a number of cases where people running on trails have been attacked by mountain lions.

I ‘retired’ the first time at the end of 2001 when I was ‘downsized.’ I’m sure that it was stressful but I immediately took a position at a non-profit research institute. And the stress started building. I went from a position where I did not have to get my salary from research grants to one where I did. Short deadlines. Frantic writing to make sure the proposal format met specifications. And then waiting nearly a year to get the results. My job will end in a few weeks. I was going to retire – on my own terms – at the end of 2010 so this just moved the schedule up a bit. Perfect timing! The economy stinks. Housing market hits the bottom.

OK, bite the bullet, put the house on the market and see what happens. That means having the house painted on the outside, clean up the yard, spread 20 cubic yards of mulch, paint some of the interior, box up all the ‘clutter’ and put it in a POD, deal with contractors, deal with a wife dealing with contractors, and rush everything so that the house can be listed before Memorial Day weekend!

Well the financial market may be looking up and the local housing market may be on the upswing. If all goes well we’ll have to deal with offers from buyers. And once a deal is sealed we’ll have to deal with moving out, donating/selling everything we don’t want to move.

Then we have to find a new house, deal with real estate agents, sellers, banks and, since no house will be perfect, another round of contractors. And will there be a trout stream at the end of the rainbow? I can’t think of a better stress reliever. Oops, yes I can! ;)

And I thought I was going to blog about what it’s like to be married to a writer of romantic suspense. She hears voices ...

Ah Chooooooo!

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Memory of the Fallen: Part 2

What I'm reading: Identity Unknown, by Debra Webb

On Friday, I posted the first half of Deputy Hussey's chapter on Remembering the Fallen. Since today is Memorial Day, I thought it only fitting to post part 2. Although we traditionally think of Memorial Day as a time to honor those in the armed forces, those who choose law enforcement as their path are putting their lives on the line daily as well.

If you haven't read Friday's post, I suggest you do so first. This continues as Deputy Hussey attends a funeral for a fallen officer and reminisces about other losses, other funerals.


On January 9, 1981 I was patrolling zone seven for the City of Lakeland Police. As I mentioned before, the midnight guys were all a special breed. The guys from all the neighboring agencies were extremely close, we counted on each other, and we all knew the dangers of working midnight to eight. The dispatcher said the county had an officer down, a shooting, on the edge of my zone. I put on the blue lights and sped to the area. As I approached, I could see the Sheriff’s Office cars and an ambulance. The ambulance sped away, siren screaming as I pulled up. I was afraid to ask.

“Who was it? I inquired of a deputy.

"T.A. Burnham."

I got cold all over and my mind raced. With my mouth as dry as dust I asked, “How bad is it?”

“Not good,” was all he said. I'd had coffee with T.A. two nights before. I had taken classes with this guy. I knew him well. I hoped he’d be okay.
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We later learned that Theron A. Burnham, ID # 127, had stopped a suspicious person fitting the description of a kidnapping suspect. The man was placed with his hands on the hood of the police car so he could be searched. It was the way we did things in those days. As T.A. searched Paul Johnson, it is believed that Johnson lunged backward, knocking the Officer off balance, and pulling a .22 buntline revolver from the waistband of his pants. The suspect then fired one shot, striking the 27-year-old Burnham in the right thigh. As the deputy lay on the ground in shock on that, the coldest night of the year, Johnson removed the .357 magnum revolver from the cop’s holster and fired one shot at close range into his neck, above his ballistic vest. The bullet traveled down a bone and severed his aorta.

Theron Anthony Burnham bled to death on the way to the hospital. He left a wife of less than one year, and two brothers who are also cops. T.A.’s funeral was one of the largest the state of Florida had ever seen.

In late February of 1981 while we were still reeling from the death of T.A., a 23 year old former Frostproof, Florida, football star, and one year veteran of the Frostproof Police Department, answered a silent alarm at local bank. It was an alarm that had been malfunctioning for over a month. Officer Henry David McCall had answered it three times that week already. In fact it had malfunctioned so many times there was no film in the surveillance cameras located inside the bank. As Officer McCall parked his marked patrol car directly in front of the bank’s main entrance, he picked up the radio mike to tell the dispatcher he was 10-97. She never heard it because he never said it. Two masked, black males ran from the bank and found their exit blocked by a police car. Acting instinctively, one of the suspects fired a hollow point bullet from a .44 magnum revolver.

The bullet traveled through the Officer’s skull and through the right side of the car, killing the young cop instantly.

David and his wife had been married on Valentine’s Day, less than two weeks before his death.

This was possibly the most disturbing police funeral I have ever attended. The entire town closed down and turned out for the service. Everybody knew Dave. Things like this didn’t happen in small towns. Dave had grown up here, he went to school here, he bagged groceries here, he played football here. He fell in love and married here. He served his community here. He was everybody’s friend. Now he is our friend too, another hero, gone but not forgotten.

The fallen heroes list is not limited to males, I’m afraid. In 1983, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Officer Peggy Park, surprised two drunks fishing without a license, one afternoon while conducting routine conservation operations. After a slight struggle, the two disarmed the Officer and shot her to death with her own revolver. Because she had no radio and was unable to crawl back to her patrol car, she lay in the hot Florida sand and bled to death, alone.

Then I thought about all the other heroes I had buried. The retirees, Ralph Lohman, 163 Golf, Gene Nipper, CID Captain, and Vic Rodriguez, a young cancer victim loved by all. These guys were heroes too. They showed up for work every day and did their jobs. They set examples for us, they taught us how to be cops and how to be human beings. They backed us up and they gave their all for those lofty principals that all law enforcement officers stand for and continue to believe in, through all the crap that gets heaped upon us.

My daydreaming was cut short by the entrance of the deputy’s family into the church. As the bagpipes continued to play Amazing Grace, the widow entered, flanked by two uniformed Lieutenants. Then came the cop’s three sons, the youngest, just ten years old, was carrying the officer’s badge, which he occasionally looked at and rubbed, as if some magical genie might appear and bring back his father. Huge tears ran down his cheeks. What was that little guy thinking?

Perhaps he thought of all the late afternoon games of catch, or last years summer vacation, or the way he and his dad just sat together and watched TV before bed. These things were all just memories now. They would never happen again because of the callous, inconsiderate, criminal act of an eighteen year old punk.

Next was the middle son, thirteen followed by the oldest, now saddled with the burden of being the man of the house at seventeen. They were holding up amazingly well under the circumstances.

After the service, at which the Orange County Sheriff, Kevin Beary, delivered a very moving eulogy, I left the church that day and headed back to the office. A wave of grief swept over me and I began to sob uncontrollably. I pulled my unmarked car to the side of the road and sat there for what seemed like hours.

I missed all those guys, even the ones I did not know. I thought it tragic that it seems these guys died for nothing, I know in my heart that that is not true. Every time a good cop takes a stand, even if it costs him his life, it is worthwhile. There are some things in this life that are worth dying for. Stopping the lawless scum that prey on the meek and innocent in our society, and continuing our proud traditions are some of those things.

I fear that as the time goes by, Deputy Creegan, like the others will move to the backs of our collective memories. I for one will never forget however, the image of John Creegan’s young son, carrying his dead father’s badge, washed with his tears, and purchased with his father’s life.

I have been unable since that day to bring myself, to attend another Police Funeral, even though there have been many since John Creegan’s. I guess in a way I have a better appreciation for my own mortality. But for the grace of God …

Tomorrow, for a change of pace, my guest will be none other than the hubby.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: In Memory of the Fallen

This week, Detective Hussey deals with a more somber side of law enforcement. Sadly, this chapter in his manuscript is much longer than the segment I'm posting today.

Today, I buried another brother. Not a blood relative, but a brother just the same. Although I did not know this man personally, we had traveled many of the same roads. I had been luckier... Sometimes more careful or skillful, but never without amazement that I was still here after all these years. There must be a reason...what could it be?

As I said earlier, I am now a detective with a large agency. In fact my current department has over 1500 sworn law enforcement officers. A sharp contrast to the fewer than 100 officers strong that the Lakeland Police Department was when I left.

The motorcade from today’s funeral stretched more than six miles. There were over a thousand cops at the church, 600 from my agency, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. I sat in the huge sanctuary of Orlando's Calvary Assembly Church. As I looked around at the mourners, I tried to remember how many times I had sat with other cops. On days much like today when we found it distastefully necessary to say farewell to a heroic brother or sister, brutally taken from our family by some low-life, sub-human species.

Many of the Lakeland and Polk County Officers I have served with and paid tribute to were not unlike the man we paid tribute to here today. Though police work has changed drastically over the last decade, this part never does.

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The deputy being buried on this Friday morning was a thirty-seven-year-old rookie with less than one year of service with our department. A couple of mornings prior, he had been a member of a sector-one uniform patrol squad. A motor vehicle pursuit initiated by a sector-four patrol officer had crossed into the jurisdiction of sector-one. The slain deputy had stopped his marked patrol car on the shoulder of Interstate 4 and was attempting to place “stop sticks” in the path of the confirmed stolen vehicle. Stop sticks are 3 foot lengths of paper covered spikes, designed to puncture the tires and stop speeding vehicles without injury to the Officers, the public or the suspect driver. In the old days we would have just shot the driver, not caring whether or not he was hurt. We’re kinder and gentler now, but at what price?

As the Deputy exited his cruiser, the 18-year-old, intoxicated piece of trash driver, approached. The driver swerved across three lanes of traffic, striking the officer and throwing his body 40 feet. As one witness would tell other officers, “The kid laughed, and flipped the cop off as he drove away.” The officer left behind his squad, his wife and three sons, and the rest of us who did not personally know him but respected and loved him. We will never forget how he died or how he lived.

As a bagpiper played the haunting hymn, Amazing Grace, my memory left that place for other years, other funerals. How many had there been? Too many.

In 1977, I was on downtown walking patrol in Fayetteville, North Carolina. A burly but tearful old desk sergeant told me that officer Danny Gentil had been shot and killed. I had walked a beat with Gentil the week before, and we'd talked about our future plans, mine and his. He showed me pictures of his wife and two young daughters. We talked about the death of Elvis Presley. We were both big fans of the King.

Danny had surprised a pill-head in an alley behind the Prince Albert Hotel. In an attempt to arrest the suspect, they had struggled, and the officer’s gun had fallen into the hands of the suspect. As a crowd gathered, many onlookers coaxed the druggie to finish off the cop. The officer attempted to reason with the addict and assure him that if he gave the gun back, the charges were not serious. Then, someone from the crowd yelled, “Don’t forget, the son-of-a-bitch has a bulletproof vest on.” The “suspect” then, according to witnesses, raised the revolver a few inches, cocked it, and shot the 26-year-old officer in the face.

On July 5, 1980, an alarm call went out at the ABC liquor lounge at Walnut Street and South Florida Avenue in Lakeland. Officer Carl H. “Scooter” Cushman was finishing a report and preparing to go home from the day shift. He thought about possible escape routes for the suspect and headed to an area on the city’s West Side. As he approached the intersection known as “five points,” he observed a vehicle fitting the description given to him by the dispatcher. The chase was on.

About five miles and four minutes from then, a period which seemed like an eternity for those of us listening to the pursuit on the police radio, Officer Cushman and convicted cocaine dealer William R. Chase were embroiled in a vicious gun battle. When it was over, fourteen rounds had been fired, six by Officer Cushman, two of which struck the suspect in the face, and eight by the “former” Hells Angel gang member. One of Chase’s rounds went through the driver’s door of the patrol vehicle, and ripped into the cop’s right side just below his bulletproof vest. The suspect was out of ammunition, and in his drug induced state, rushed the officer, hurling himself on top of Cushman in the front seat of the patrol car. There, Cushman was trying to reload his revolver. Chase, also shot, was trying to chew off the officer’s ear. An arriving backup officer’s brakes failed and the car he was driving, struck Cushman’s car, smashing Officer Cushman’s leg between the door sill and the bumper.

After seventeen hours of surgery and 9 pints of blood, Cushman was stable. A stainless steel pin, protruding from his thigh, was placed the full length of his right leg and a large section of his intestine had been removed. He would never be the athlete he had been prior to the shooting. He would never be the great cop, physically, he had once been. In a lot of ways, Scooter died that day. But he didn’t die, not just then. The bureaucrats killed him slowly.

About a year later, Officer Cushman returned to work the desk, an extremely stressful job, as any cop knows. Although the men were ecstatic about having him back, the Lakeland Police Department brass labeled him as a malingerer. He was accused of intentionally slowing his healing progress in an attempt to keep from going back to his patrol duties. An absolute lie. He would have loved nothing more than to have returned to his chosen profession. He asked to be given a detective position. The Chief refused.

Scooter was given menial jobs and was continually berated by the Chief and his staff. One afternoon, Cushman called the watch commander and told him that he was having pains in his chest and arm. The Lieutenant angrily cried, “Carl, you belly-acher, if you’re sick, get a patrol car and go to the hospital, but we’re too busy to send an officer with you!"

Carl Cushman did drive himself to the hospital, and after a short examination, a very frightened triage nurse rushed him into a cardiac trauma room where it was determined that he had suffered a serious coronary.

The City of Lakeland refused to pay any of the medical expenses relating to the heart attack, saying they didn’t “believe” it to be job related. A federal court in Tampa decided a year later that the heart attack was indeed job-related and ordered the city to pay. By then Officer Cushman had lost his house and his financed automobile. He left the department shortly thereafter, not as a hero as he should have, but in a sea of controversy.

In 1985 Carl joined the Department of the Army’s civilian security force at the infamous Watergate hotel complex in Washington, D.C. A year later he was transferred to Cameron Station, Virginia, and became a much-loved Chief of Police there. Less than two years later on April 11, 1988, he died after undergoing the last of several open heart surgeries. He was 45.

In the City of Lakeland where he had served so gallantly, there were no fanfares, no taps, no twenty one gun salutes, no flags were lowered to half mast. The Lakeland Ledger newspaper ran a short article titled, “nightmare over for cop’s wife”. The then Lakeland Chief of Police said, “I thought he was doing okay”. The Fraternal Order of Police was unable to honor Cushman by placing his name among those who had been killed in the line of duty because it could not be proven that the officer’s death was job-related. The city fathers fought that notion. They might have to pay survivor’s benefits.

Carl’s wife Barbera lost her home and nearly everything she owned. Bill collectors hounded her relentlessly. She was forced to move in with her daughter.

Make no mistake about it. Carl H. Cushman died in the line of duty, in service to the citizens of the City of Lakeland. On May 7, 1998, through the diligent efforts of his friends, Carl H.. “Scooter” Cushman’s name was added to the roll call of heroes, those individuals who have given their lives in defense of their public. It’s a small honor for such a worthy hero. I can only hope it somehow eases his pain.

In the Lakeland Civic center rose garden, near the small black marble plaque which bears his name, is a larger monument which bears the following inscription: "GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS" John 15:13

Note: Every Friday, Lee Lofland salutes current fallen heroes on his blog, The Graveyard Shift.

The Winner is ......

Thanks to everyone for the house-selling suggestions.

The winner of an autographed copy of What's in a Name? is ........


Robyn, email me with your mailing address to claim your prize.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Get Some Warm Fuzzies: Volunteer

Because I announced yesterday's book giveaway on a number of message groups, and the digest post option often takes a day to show up, I'm not going to announce a winner until tomorrow (when it'll be another chapter from the annals of Detective Hussey).

You can leave a comment either here or scroll down to yesterday's post.

The "For Sale" sign is in the yard, so I guess it's official, although I haven't seen the posting on the MLS site.

I know I've spent a lot of blog time on my pet charity, Adult Literacy, and it's still a worthwhile topic. Saturday I'll be training another batch of tutors. Yes, it's a holiday weekend, but the need is there. The Adult Literacy League here in Orlando has a backlog of people waiting to be assigned tutors. The economy is hitting them hard. On a slightly brighter note, we've seen a rise in the number of tutors--many of them have also felt the downsizing crunch and now have more time, and are choosing to use it to help others.

Keep Reading...

My first student was a 50-year-old woman who had completed 9th grade, but had been passed through the system because she was a quiet and cooperative student. Her learning difficulties had pretty much been ignored. I spent 3 delightful years working with her, and we both took great satisfaction in watching her progress.

My next student reflected another literacy issue … people whose native language isn’t English. I enjoyed the ups and downs of explaining the vagaries and complexities of our language to a woman born and raised in Korea. Although she was in the U.S. for almost 20 years, she had only recently made the connection between the fact that without good language skills, her ability to obtain promotions at work had just about ended. I probably learned as much about grammar as she did (at least I learned official terminology for all the rules I took for granted). Her pronunciation was another challenge--being Korean, she had problems with Ls and Rs. "Squirrel" was almost beyond her capability. And since she worked for Walt Disney World, we spent a lot of time practicing that one.

Or idioms -- one story spoke of a character being "in a rut." Because she pronounced the word "rot", not "rut", her interpretation was that the man had a "rotten life."

The rewards of having someone tell you that they read a magazine article that warned of the dangers of eating rare hamburger, or that they finally got the Monday – Friday work schedule they’ve always wanted cannot be measured. I urge everyone who has an hour a week to find a literacy group in your community and give something back. You can check ProLiteracy Worldwide to find a program in your area. Get in touch with someone today.

And if you don't think you have what it takes to work with a student, your local literacy organization needs volunteers for so many other tasks. Can you help with mailings? Will you answer phones? Can you manage a photocopy machine? And, if you feel you still don't have the time or skills, these organizations will never say 'no' to your checks!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Selling is Selling – And you can win a book

What I'm reading: Second Chance Pass by Robyn Carr

I've got a giveaway today. Be sure to leave a comment.

Today's the day. Is it the beginning or the end? The house is freshly painted. Most of the inside repairs are finished. The window man hasn't called back, and we still have to find the right hinges for the guest bathroom cabinets, but we've met the goal of having it ready to list. The POD is going away this afternoon.

I started thinking about how much getting the house ready for market is like getting a book ready to sell.

In my case, I'll write the initial manuscript, which will undoubtedly be long, and there will be a lot of precious words that aren't really vital to moving the story forward. Much like the 'before' picture of hubby's office.

When it's finished, it's going to need a lot of editing. Each scene has to be considered. Is it needed? Is it in the right place? Should I save it and put it in my 'cuts' file to be used another time?
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The realtor had us remove almost everything personal. My dining room wall that used to display memorabilia from all our travels? Bare. No family pictures. And, of course, no more skulls. Even my silk plants are gone (okay, they were on the dusty side, but they did brighten up the place).

The edits begin, and continue. The process is different for every writer. Just as hubby and I approached the "house editing" differently, one author might try to have a polished chapter before moving onto the next, while another might write straight through from page one to the end without going back. I think in the long run, it takes about the same time from start to finish.

But what happens when you finally have that manuscript as gorgeous as it can be? It needs to find that special buyer. That one editor who's going to fall in love with it, accept that it might have flaws, but be willing to work with it. So, you start sending it out. And then, it's out of your hands. You wait.

Our realtor is the "agent." His job is to find that one buyer who will love our house. So, although our goal has been met, and our house is ready, we're really just beginning the journey.

How will we deal with the pressure of waiting, not being able to do anything? It's kind of like waiting for the mail each day. Will there be a request for a partial? A full? Or a rejection?

And then there's the down-and-dirty reality. Or, should I say, the 'down-and-clean' reality? The house has to be ready to show. Maybe for months and months. No leaving dishes in the sink, or clutter on the counters. Wastebaskets empty.

I'll confess here. When I went to work full time years ago, the contingency was that we hired someone to do the cleaning. Up until now, I've managed to keep that in the budget. However, given our new financial circumstances, I've cut back to every other week. Of course, we've always done the laundry, made beds (although hubby wonders why, since we have to unmake them to get into bed every night), wash dishes, etc. all on our own—but the vacuuming, mopping, and serious cleaning was left for the service. It's been a long time since I did some of those basics myself.

And, just as the technology my characters use in my books has changed, so, apparently, has the housecleaning variety. And, since we figure we're going to have to keep things spiffy on a more frequent basis, I thought I'd try one of those gizmos I'd seen on tv that looked faster and easier than a vacuum cleaner for our wood and tile floors. (Not to mention it took me a while to find the 'on' switch for the vacuum cleaner).

So, after the carpet cleaners left, I had the humbling experience of trying to assemble a Swiffer. No words, just pictures on the box in lieu of instructions. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to attach the pads to the base unit.

What are the little tricks that keep you from going crazy with having to become neat-freaks? And the bits of magic that make the house irresistible to buyers? I don't think I'm going to be baking cookies every day so the house smells like a bakery. It's hot, and I hate turning on the oven (and besides, using it will get it dirty!)

Any advice? Share a suggestion in the comments section. It can be a hint for making the house look good, or a hint for keeping the marriage intact during the process! I'll give an autographed copy of What's in a Name? to one commenter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Guest June Shaw: On Overcoming Addictions

Today my guest is author June Shaw. Although she writes humorous mysteries, today she's chosen a more serious topic. But then, humor often comes out of the dark side, doesn't it?

Overcoming an Addicition

Can it be done?

Can anyone get rid of a habit that feels overwhelming, that continues to pull the user toward the thrill of an unhealthy product or experience?

I believe that with help, most people can overcome addictions, although they may fail the first time they try. Or the second time. And possibly the fifth.

The first method a user tries might fail. The fourth could work. If so, was trying a waste of time?

Absolutely not. We normally use an item or repeat an experience many times before we find ourselves addicted.

That’s what happened to me.

Keep Reading...

It took many attempts for me as a young teen to learn to smoke a cigarette without coughing like crazy, yet I kept trying with my friends until I achieved the desired results. I became hooked.

Many years later, I started coughing a bit from smoking again. I knew it was way past time to quit.

I did it—and I’m thrilled!

But I did not do it alone or the first time I tried. Or after the second attempt or the fourth.

Years earlier, I had told myself smoking was unhealthy and costly but found going cold turkey or using a patch or a pill not helpful enough. How easy it was to say I couldn’t quit. I was addicted to nicotine, and that was that.

In my book Killer Cousins, the main character trips over a body in the yard of her cousins, who swears she doesn’t know the dead man, although he’s a member of her stop-smoking group. He died on the day her group chose to give up cigarettes.

I, and many others, know that on the day a smoker decides to quit, anybody around us could wind up choked. We become vile creatures, ready to act out with anyone who happens to be in the vicinity of the vicious nature we take on when we are without our beloved, deadly nicotine.

In the Acknowledgment of my book, I thank many people, including a hypnotist who became a friend after she hypnotized my daughter and me to help us stop smoking. We both did—for a few weeks. I also thank a nurse friend at our local hospital for putting on stop-smoking sessions. We were in her groups twice. Both times we quit for a month or two. I thank the doctor and pharmacist who gave me so much information about different stop-smoking products. My daughter and I tried some over the counter and some with prescriptions.

They worked! Not the first time we tried to quit and not with the first product. But altogether we learned and kept trying.

We practiced quitting—just like we’d practiced starting.

Now both of us have quit for good. We’ve been smoke free for over five years!

Millions of people watched Oprah go through the same experience with eating and weight gain. A person might not stay with a weight-loss and exercise program forever, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. Many of our young people have struggled with addictions to legal and illegal drugs, and with help, huge numbers overcome their dependence on harmful substances. My middle son did. Marijuana became his drug of choice. He achieved much success as a young man, but his hard-fought success in avoiding drugs remains most important to him and me. Family, friends, and professionals had to help.

Most people can become addicted to a thing or person or practice that is harmful to them. The lucky ones turn to others for assistance to overcome their addiction. The truly fortunate individuals have others give them help, even if it means going through many trials before total success is achieved. Overcoming our harmful ways will always make us stronger people.

You can find out more about June Shaw and her humorous mysteries at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Give Those Gold Stars

What I'm reading: Invisible Prey, by John Sandford; Sudden Death, by Allison Brennan

Change can be good. Change can be scary. Sometimes you have choices. Sometimes the choices are made for you. Sometimes you feel like you're poised at the top of a cliff.

Almost a year ago, I opted to quit my day job and focus more on writing. I had two book contracts, an agent shopping a manuscript, and another one almost finished. I requested the rights back to one of my books—one that I thought might stand a better chance at a mass market release rather than being hidden in a relatively obscure digital marketplace, when its competition was the print market. I'd saved enough from my day job to finance a writing career for about three years, I figured.

Well, Murphy's Law, Fate, Karma … you know what they say about the best laid plans.

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I'd just taken a flying leap off the edge of the cliff when the economy tanked. Hubby's job was being phased out. My manuscript hadn't sold. I made another difficult decision and parted company with my agent.

I now have to decide what to do with the unsold manuscript as well as another spin-off that hasn't been out in the world, and the book to which I now hold the rights. I wrote that one almost five years ago, and the technology was already out of date by the time it was published. Plus, I've started a new book, and have been struggling with deciding if I want to make it another romance, or if it should be a straight mystery.

Added to that, getting the house ready to sell has the stress level hitting the stratosphere. Writing has always been a firm foothold in maintaining my sanity, but having to deal with meeting the realtor's "suggestions" for taking a house with an accumulation of 22 years of "stuff" into a clean, spacious, dwelling that will entice buyers has been a full-time proposition, meaning there's an additional buildup of stress. And with little or no time to focus on writing, there's no release valve.

The doubts rise, and I wonder if I was crazy thinking I could write; if I have the energy to search for another agent; if my publisher will accept the sequel to When Danger Calls; if my writing savings will have to be diverted for food and housing expenses. Or if I'm going over the waterfall.

And then something as simple as an automatically generated email gives me the little ego-stroke that reminds me that no matter what, I'm a writer, and setbacks or not, I'm going to write.

When I began writing, as some of you may know, I wrote fan fiction based on the Highlander television series. I had fun and learned a lot about the craft. I wrote half a dozen stories, and they're still floating around cyberspace. I haven't tried to nuke them; they serve as reminders that I've made considerable progress. Well, a couple of days ago, I got email notifications from a major fan fiction site that someone had added me to his or her (gotta love those genderless screen names) favorite author list and marked two of my stories as favorites as well. You know how you felt when your teacher put a big gold star on your paper? This was the same feeling.
It's not like making one of the best seller lists. Or being nominated for a Rita, or finaling in one of the contests I'd entered. Or even getting a glowing review. But it says someone enjoyed my stories, and took the time to say something about it.

And that's the secret. Taking that little bit of time.

Last week, we got takeout from a new restaurant. It was part of a chain, so there was no reason to expect any problems; the menus are standard, and they should have had an established training system for their help. Yet when we got the meal home, we found that one of the salads was missing a vital ingredient—the lettuce. And the chips were salted to the point that they were almost inedible (if you wiped them off before eating each one, they were tolerable). I found the company website and emailed them about our experience. The were prompt to apologize and invited us back for another try. We took them up on it, and had an acceptable meal. I might have simply regarded this as appropriate customer service and let it drop, but now I think I'll follow up with a thank you and let them know they're doing better.

How about you? As prices go up on just about everything, as jobs disappear, as the future becomes uncertain, it's important to remember the little things that can brighten someone's day. How many times have you enjoyed a book, or a meal, or the way someone treated you in a shop and followed up with a 'thank you?' Do it. You'll be bringing some light into someone's day. It costs you nothing but a few moments of your time.

Tomorrow, my guest is author June Shaw. Although she writes humorous mysteries, she's tackling a more serious subject. But then, doesn't humor have roots in the darker side?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Adventures in the Paranormal 2

I know you've been waiting for Part 2 of Homicide - Hussey's Adventures in the Paranormal. Wait no longer ... here it is. (If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you'll need to do so first. It's here

To refresh your memories, we left our stalwart office investigating some reported noises in an old, abandoned mansion. This is where we stopped last time:

I let the rookie go up the stairs first, because I didn’t think we would find any bad guys and he needed the experience of searching buildings. This one would give him plenty. The interior of the building was 180,000 square feet. We checked the first floor together, tediously looking into every room. Opening the room doors first, then looking cautiously into the bathrooms and closets. The electricity was off in the building, and thus the air conditioner was off. All the windows had been boarded up. The hot, stagnant air inside the building made it difficult to breathe. Vlad and I began to sweat profusely.

And now, on to Part 2

"Look, this place is huge and this is going to take us forever,” I said. “I'll take the second floor and you take the third. If either of us finds anything, we’ll holler for the other.”

Vlad nodded and disappeared up the stairs. I followed, checking the stairwell and landings with my “Kell” light.

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When I reached the second floor, I checked the rooms sporadically. It was getting really hot in there and I wanted to get out as quickly as possible. When I reached the end of the hallway, I yelled for Vlad. The echo in the old building was interesting. I heard no answer, so I yelled again. Still, no answer. Perhaps the rookie had finished his search too and gone back downstairs. I followed the beam of my flashlight back to the lobby and looked for Luther and Vlad. Finding neither one, I walked outside.

I found the security guard, sitting in the front seat of a golf cart, smoking a cigarette. "See anything?” he asked.

“Just a lot of empty rooms.” We made small talk for a while. He was a “Wisheye” for sure: you know, “Wish I was the police.” Eventually my young partner emerged.

“Ready?” I asked Vlad.

“Yeah. Who's staying in those rooms on the third floor?" he asked, looking at the guard.

“You saw someone, where...” The startled Luther jumped from the golf cart.

“I didn’t see anybody,” Vlad said “but there’s furniture and things in two of the rooms up there."

“I don’t know what you saw, but there ain’t no anything in any of those rooms and ain’t been anything in a couple of years.”

It was pretty dark outside, but I could see the color drain from Vlad's face. His voice raised an octave as he said, “I know I'm not crazy. Two of the rooms had beds, dressers and night tables, you know old fashioned stuff.”

“Calm down and let’s take a look,” I said. “Was the stuff stacked, or piled up, maybe it just got left when the old guys moved out.” Both men tried to answer frantically. “Let’s head up there and see.” I turned toward the door. Vlad was a little hesitant, but followed.

We climbed quickly to the third floor, and as I stepped into the hallway, I unsnapped and drew my service revolver. I wasn’t taking any chances. The rookie followed my lead.

“Which room was it?” I whispered.

The kid pointed to a door near the end of the hallway on the right. We made our way carefully down the hallway, sliding close to the wall. When we reached the door, I crouched down and motioned for Vlad to take my position. I then moved to an area in front and slightly to the left of the door. This would afford me a view of the interior of the room when the door was opened. I made note of the fact that door was hung on the right and swung inward. I nodded my head to my partner. Vlad reached up with his left hand, pointing his revolver at the door with his right. He turned the doorknob left, then right.

“Locked”, he whispered.

“I'll stay here and cover the door, while you see if the guard has a key." Vlad walked quietly down the hall to the stairwell.

He returned a short time later with the security guard, who was mumbling something about the doors not being locked and fumbling through a large ring of keys.

“It’s either this one or this one," he said, separating two keys from the large ring.

“Stand back.” I motioned with the right hand. This time, Vlad crouched down and covered the door, while I reached up and worked the keys. The doorknob was wet like it had condensation on it.

That was weird, I thought. It’s three hundred degrees in here.

The first key wasn’t it. I inserted the second. Bingo. I dropped the keys, and the door swung open, hitting the wall on the inside. As the door opened, a blast of cool air hit me like a wave. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as we worked slowly around the corner, shining the flashlights in every corner and crack. When we went inside, the temperature seemed to drop even more. It was a good forty degrees cooler at the center of that room than it was in the hallway. It wasn’t even like air conditioning. It was...damp, cold. I mean cold, not cool.

“What the hell?” I said out loud. “You sure this place ain’t air conditioned?"

The guard just shook his head. His eyes were two tiny beads at the end of glass tunnels. “No power.”

My partner had lost it. He was running frantically back and forth from one room to the other. “I know what I saw!” he screamed.

I tried to reason out the situation. It was obviously not working.

“There were beds with brown spreads and doilies on the tables and lamps and a toothbrush in the bathroom."

"Are you sure it was this room?” I asked

“Positive. I'm not crazy.”

I was starting to feel a little spooky myself. “Let’s get the hell outa here.”

I’d barely gotten the words out before Vlad and Luther were running down the hallway. When I got downstairs, the guard was on his second cigarette having inhaled the first one in one puff, and my trainee was seated in the passenger’s seat of the cruiser, staring straight ahead.

“You okay?” I asked

"Yeah,” he replied, not looking at me.

We drove the rest of the night without much conversation. Vlad finished his training time with me and moved on. He seemed to be preoccupied. Several months later, recruit Vladimir Novanavich reenlisted as a second lieutenant in the United States Army infantry, and resigned from the Lakeland Police Department. He would never discuss the Carpenter’s Home incident, and in later years he would say that I had probably played some practical joke on him.

Hey, even I wasn’t that good.

As for me, I've never seen a U.F.O. Or a ghost. Or talked to Elvis through my television set. But on a hot August night in Lakeland in the early eighties, I did work a genuine “unknown” trouble call.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How do Whales "Do It?"

What I'm reading: Colby Rebuilt, by Debra Webb

The chaos continues. The painters begin today. We will probably be one step ahead of them in clearing things so they can deal with the walls. Rather than leave this space blank, or bore you with the delights of clearing and packing, I'm going to turn this space over to a friend and former colleague.

As some of you might remember, I used to work for a scientific organization that dealt with marine mammals, even though all I did was manage their membership database and conference registration. The following piece was written by Dr. Phillip Clapham, a large whale biologist (he's not large, the whales he studies are). I think you'll enjoy it. Then again, maybe it's just because I'm married to a biologist that I find these things interesting.

Warning: the article is about sex, so if the thought of these enormous creatures 'going at it' isn't your thing, come back tomorrow for the conclusion of Homicide- Hussey's venture into the paranormal. Actually, even if whale sex is your thing, you're invited back tomorrow, too.

As a whale biologist, I'm used to receiving all kinds of email enquiries about whale biology, and these frequently involve whale sex. "How do whales, you know, DO it?" is a pretty common question. Recently, I've spent a significant chunk of time answering questions from friends and members of the public about some alleged blue whale mating trivia that has been doing the rounds of the Internet. In an effort to resolve this issue, I provide here a correction to said fake trivia - as well as some real whale sex trivia to replace it.

You've probably seen the blue whale item. It says that male blue whales produce huge quantities of sperm when they mate (figures of up to 400 kg have been quoted back to me), and that "90% of this goes into the water". The "trivia" concludes by noting that no one should wonder why the sea is so salty. Ha ha.

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This little factoid sounds cute, but it's not accurate. No one has ever seen blue whales mate, so we have no idea how efficient this act is. Since Nature is usually very good at maximizing efficiency, it's very unlikely that much of the semen enters the water rather than its intended target in the female anatomy.

Although mating has never been observed in blue whales, it's been seen in some other whale species. It's likely that blues are similar in the way they get things done. In other whales, the very mobile tip of the male's penis (which is fibro-elastic rather than vascular as in humans) reaches over and inserts itself into the female's vagina. Mating is quick, and the only way that any semen would be spilled into the water is if the female suddenly decided to disengage at the critical moment (how inconsiderate of her). This is certainly possible, but again, no one's seen the act of copulation in blue whales, so we don't know.

Needless to say, the volume of sperm produced by a male blue whale in a single mating attempt has also never been calculated. While it's safe to say that it's large, we don't know details. And in terms of, well, endowment, blue whales - let's be frank here - do not stack up very well to other whales.

Let's look at some figures. Blue whales are the largest of all the whales, and indeed are the largest animals ever to have lived in our planet's history. At maximum weights approaching 200 tons and lengths of more than 100 feet, they make dinosaurs look like lightweights. A large male blue whale of around 26 meters (85 feet) would weigh well over 100 tons. That male's testes would weigh around 70 kg (150 lbs) for the pair.

Now while this may not sound like something that you'd want to have dropped on you from a great height, 70 kg is in fact very small relative to body size. If you want to look at the true he-men of the whale world, the blue whale is probably the last animal you'd pick. So which whale would you look at instead? I'm glad you asked...

This would be the right whale. Right whales are large, rather rotund animals that live in both hemispheres. There are three species, two of which (the North Atlantic and North Pacific rights) are, by the way, critically endangered thanks largely to whaling.

A large male right whale would be around 17 meters (55 feet) and would weigh about 75 tons - much smaller than a big blue. So how much do a right whale's testes weigh? OK, get ready for this. The combined weight of a right whale's two testes is...

One ton. Yep, ONE TON! As Dave Barry would say, we are not making this up.

OK, OK. I know what all you guys want to know next (and probably some of you women too), so to save myself from endless email enquiries, here's the parallel statistic. Right whales also have a longer penis than any other whale, or indeed anything else on earth. The average length of a right whale's member is around 2.3 meters (7.5 feet), or about 14% of its body length. And in case you're wondering, both penis and testes are internal (guys, you wouldn't want all that additional drag if you spent your life moving through the water, now would you?) But the penis can be extruded outside the body for mating.

So there you go. Right whales have such huge testes because their mating system is based on what's called sperm competition. Female right whales will mate serially with multiple males. Consequently, each male tries to produce a huge volume of sperm to out-compete that of the male who was, er, there, before him.

As a final slut-related note, it is anatomically possible for female right whales to mate with two males at the same time, and this has been seen on occasion. One male will lie on each side and the tip of each penis enters the female at the same time. Porn movies have nothing on these guys.

Don't forget - Homicide - Hussey's paranormal chapter concludes tomorrow. You won't want to miss it.