I'm a former deputy sheriff, and being in law enforcement is kind of like being in a fraternity or sorority. (I think. I wasn't ever in one, but I know there's hazing and painful initiation in both.) Even when you've moved on to other things, every law enforcement officer (LEO) is still your brother or your sister. Even after four years out of uniform, I still have to fight the urge to back up LEOs on traffic stops. I wave at every cruiser like they're my squad partner. And I cry whenever I read about a LEO getting killed in the line of duty. There have been a lot in the last year that hit close to home. Not, thank goodness, from my old agency, but from neighboring agencies – guys I didn't know, but might easily have met in training or in court. Guys I consider my brothers.
In Brightwing, LEOs die. Swiftly, anonymously, and for no good reason. (Not that there could ever be a good reason, but in the fictional world of course things work a little differently.) And it hurts me every time I read my own words. I want to stop the narrative and hunt the perpetrator down. I want to stop being an author, go back to being a cop, and do my duty in the pages.
But characters have to be in character. The two main protagonists, Lucy Brightwing and Edgar Battle, are no great shakes in the morals and ethics department, but they don't kill people. Edgar's brother Mallory, on the other hand, is a completely screwed-up sociopath who will murder without compunction, for fun if he has the leisure, or strictly for business if anyone gets in his way.
Yes, I despise him. But he's a heck of a character to write.
I want to make sure you know – particularly you LEOs out there – that I didn't take their deaths lightly. I was exploring – in a way, working through and purging – every LEO's biggest fear. The jump from LEO to writer isn't so great, really, because we have one thing in common – we're both constantly imagining complex and nuanced scenarios. In a writer, it is plotting a thousand possible books; in a LEO, it consists of mapping out every possible way we could die, and mentally preparing to avoid it. On every single call, we think, if if he has a shotgun I'll do this, if he has a knife I'll do that, if he has an syringe with an unknown substance I'll do the other.
The things we can prepare for rarely kill us.
The things we can foresee and rehearse don't frighten us.
What LEOs worry about are the things they can't see coming. The fake call that turns out to be an ambush. Pulling over to cheerfully help what looks like a stranded motorist, not knowing he just slaughtered his whole family and assumes you're there to take his freedom. The people with a grudge against law enforcement, who see a uniform as a target.
Because no matter how much we train, we still have certain assumptions about the world. LEOs expect a small percentage of people to want to kill them for a reason. They don't – can't – expect people to want to kill them for no reason at all, just because they're LEOs. You can't plan to be the initiation rite of a gang member. You can't plan for a sniper who picks you just because you're driving a cruiser.
You can't plan for Mallory Battle.
If I was still a cop, not an author, I'd arrest him. (And my LEO friends, you know he'd resist arrest, and then...)
But I'm an author, and so Mallory Battle exists in fiction as a warning of the worst that can happen.
Stay safe, my brothers and sisters. May you never meet Mallory Battle in real life. And if you do, please be ready for him.
In memory of all the law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty... in particular those who were killed in the last year near my home town:
St. Petersburg Police Department:
February 21, 2011
Officer David S. Crawford
Shot and killed by a 16-year-old while investigating a suspicious person call.
January 24, 2011
K9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz
Sgt. Tom Baitinger
Both shot and killed while attempting to serve a warrant for aggravated battery. Officer Yaslowitz was killed after the suspect convinced them he'd surrendered. Sgt. Baitinger was killed attempting to rescue Officer Yaslowitz.
Tampa Police Department:
June 29, 2010
Officer Jeffrey Kocab
Officer David Curtis
Both shot and killed after stopping a vehicle for having no visible plate, and discovering the driver had a misdemeanor warrant for writing a worthless check. It was later determined the suspect had previously killed three other people, and believed he was being arrested for that.
Please stop by the Officer Down Memorial Page, read their stories, and remember the noble men and women who gave their lives trying to keep us safe.