When Not Writing my Next in the Sterling Novels, I Blog to Amuse...

When Not Writing my Next in the Sterling Novels, I Blog to Amuse...

November 10, 2011

Say it ain't so, Joe!


I was ten.

The room was dark and the night was late.

Quiet filled the house but I knew that soon the floorboards would creak.  He always tried to keep his footsteps light, trying not to wake me.

But I wasn’t asleep.

I couldn’t sleep.

And then they came.

The wood planks were old and unforgiving, letting out long groans with each of his steps.

I squeezed my eyes shut.

I prayed, “Please don’t come into my room tonight, not again.”

I balled my fists; maybe I could fight back.

But I knew that I wouldn’t.

The shame began to wash over my body again.

The bedroom door slowly opened.

I held my breath.

Chapter One

Joe Paterno is a revered man, a walking saint in the eyes of many.  His life has been blessed with a success few of us will ever obtain, and accomplishments that as youngsters and adults alike we dream about.

I’m not a college football fan, but I can certainly respect and even admire a man who has worked diligently and persistently to achieve at the highest level.

More Bowl victories and appearances than any coach; the only coach to have won the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls; two National Championships; five undefeated seasons; and one of the 50 greatest coaches of all time – that’s in all sports.

On his way to work, he walks by a statue of himself everyday.  Spread out along the wall of the campus bookstore is a Da Vinci like ubiquitous and elaborate mural with Joe at its center.

So what.

Chapter Two

He walks in and whispers my name quietly.

I pretend to sleep.

My body starts to shiver. 

It always did.

Before going to bed, I cocooned myself in the blanket, hoping that it would offer some protection.

It never did.

He peeled away its layers.

A tear trickled down my cheek.

Chapter Three

Joe Paterno was fired today; relieved of his duties as Head Coach.

His illustrious career has ended in a dark cloud of thundering controversy.

“Fire him!” many shouted.

“Don’t fire him!” responded others.

But fire him they did.

Some rioted.  Cars were overturned.  Emotional outcries poured from shocked fans.

In 2002, a Graduate Assistant told Joe that he witnessed the former Penn State Defensive Coordinator – Joe’s employee – performing a sex act on a ten-year old boy.

He witnessed it.

He reported it.

Joe’s employee molested a child in Joe’s locker room (this next sentence is not for the faint of heart); On Penn State’s campus, in the athlete’s showers of Joe Paterno’s locker room, Jerry Sanduky was having anal intercourse with a ten-year old boy.

I am physically sickened just writing that sentence.

Joe reported it to the Athletic Director but not on that day: Joe reported it the next day.

Not to the local police.

Not to Campus Security.

He reported in only to the Athletic Director; to this day, we don’t know what those exact words were and if they included all of the graphic details of the incident.

My assumption is that Joe told the Athletic Director everything; that the Director would take the reins and notify the authorities.

But the man didn’t.  He did nothing.

Instead of being arrested, charged, and convicted, a retired Jerry Sandusky, continued to enjoy his emeritus status on campus and used the facilities as he pleased.

He used them to continue molesting his prey.

Nine years passed from the first molestation report, and Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 (40!) counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period, Sandusky acknowledged at least 8 victims – 8!

It is believed that at least 20 (20!) events took place at Penn State.

And those are only the ones to whom he admitted.

Sandusky is 67 years old, molestation by a man on a boy doesn’t start at middle-age, at age 52; it is an act that begins much sooner in the predator’s life; it is an act that continues unabated until that predator’s own demise or capture.

Believe me, there are far more victims than the 8 to which Sandusky has been charged with molesting.

When the news first broke, I wanted to side with Joe Paterno, I really did.  After all, he was a man to be admired not only for his career, but also for his professional demeanor, his focus on the academic process of his athletes, and for his commitment to both community and family.

Joe Paterno has five children.

What if it had been one of them?

Would you have taken a different course of action, Joe?

I really would like to know.

Chapter Three

The visits to my room went on for a few years.

Eventually he would turn on my brother, too. 

Over that time, I became angry, violent even, and lashed out verbally and physically at school, at home, and in the public.

I was labeled as a bad kid.

For decades, I had tremendous difficulty trusting anyone, particularly men.

I wanted to be alone.

I despised affection.





Deep Shame.

I met my molester through the “Big Brothers” program.  Growing up without a father, my mother thought it best to provide me with a male role model and enrolled me in the “Big Brother” program.

His name was Mark Smith; he lived in a suburb of Minneapolis.

It was 1984.

Like Mark Smith, Jerry Sandusky worked in a youth program “giving back” to the community, but truly used the guise of working with young boys as a means to surround himself with an array of potential victims from which he could choose.

A predator does not wear a sign.

A predator works harder to blend into the community.

A predator overcompensates for his need to abuse by becoming that man that no one could possibly see as a predator.

Joe Paterno is old enough, wise enough, and mature enough to know this.

Joe Paterno was the leader of an organization: head coach, CEO, commander-in-chief; it doesn’t matter.  One has the obligation to manage an organization in all matters relevant when one holds the position of authority.

Expectations for our leaders are higher than those are for others.

That’s why leaders are paid more, sometimes exorbitantly more.

That’s why they receive perks the rest of us never will.

Joe Paterno’s employee molested – raped – a boy on campus, in the athletic facilities: Joe Paterno had more than a moral obligation to ensure that the matter was investigated and by the appropriate authorities: he had a legal obligation.

When I first heard of the allegations, and the calls for Joe to step down, I wondered if we were judging Joe too quickly and seeking to vilify him, as our society tends to do.

And then I gathered the facts.

Joe, you made a mistake.

A really, really big one.

I understand that your life is football; your profession football, and that every ounce of you is football.

No one ever wants or expects to be a part of something as heinous as this.  But you were, and when you were, you had tough choices to make.

That’s the role of leadership.

Because of your conscious decision to wipe your hands clean of a very dirty matter, others were molested; more boys have suffered in despair; a few will live in the dark pit of self-hatred and for their entire lives.

Some may even continue the cycle of abuse as it has happened to them.

Some will have troubles with intimacy.

Some will turn to alcohol, others to drugs.

Some may never see the light of a life beautiful.

Am I reaching here?


But I don’t think so.

Joe Paterno enjoyed a great and admirable career.  He made a mistake and that career has ended because of it.

Was it too harsh?


Should he have been allowed to coach the final game of the season?


Some mistakes require severe and swift punishment.

It is not the way his career should have ended.

Far from it and I truly do sympathize with him.

But it did.

A small part of me still hopes that one piece of information is still missing; one piece of knowledge that will vindicate Joe.  I want to see Joe on a float in a parade celebrating and being celebrated the way a man of his stature should have been.

Screaming fans under confetti, ribbons, and streamers is how it should have been.

I want to point to him and tell my son: That’s a role model, that’s how you should be.

But I haven’t seen that missing bit of evidence that would clearly vindicate Joe; I don’t think that I will.

Please, just say it ain’t so, Joe.

Just say it ain’t so.


To those youngsters that have inexplicably found themselves the center of that disgusting and unexplainable side of humanity: you are not alone; your pain is real; you are suffering, but remember that you can make, you will make it.

Reach out.

Tell someone.

Fight back.

And when it’s over, you can overcome it.  You can grow into a beautiful and wonderful human being.

You are normal.

Don’t be afraid.

It’s not your fault; it never was.

October 31, 2011

Steve Jobs's Last Breath


When I was a Special Operations soldier, I was satisfied.

Putting a bullet dead center from greater than 500 meters away, that was my life.

Finely tuned and lethal; I could be underwater for hours in a Rebreather, or in the mountains with my face painted and unseen; I could traverse a desert solo, or survive in a jungle with my wits.

I was a trained killer.

I loved every minute of every day.

But it wasn’t Nirvana, and it was far from enlightenment.

Chapter One

It may not have been my Nirvana, but it was close.

My favorite moment in Special Operations was when I jumped from a plane into the inky, black darkness of the unknown.  A red light would turn green, bathing the inside of the plane with a warm glow.

It was the signal that sent the first stream of adrenaline ripping through my veins.

It was the signal that it was time to go.
The cargo ramp would open with a long, metallic groan and a torrent of air would fill my eardrums no different than if it were a train rushing by.  My heart would race; sweat would drop down the spine of my back.

Anticipation was my only drug.

Fear was my chaser.

The first step was always the most difficult.  The first step separated my body from the plane, from anything physical, from all things real.

My body would plummet at near terminal velocity toward the earth, an earth that I couldn’t see in the midnight skies.

The cold from the high-altitude, night air would scratch my face, and the icy droplets of the cloud that I fell through would wet any exposed skin.

It was as close to enlightenment as I’ve ever been.  It was how I imagined Nirvana should be: the world was quiet; my body was weightless, and all thoughts were gone.  It was just the planet and I together in a poetic dance with physics.

I didn’t tumble.

I didn’t fall.

I just existed.

God only knows how much I miss those days.

Today, I am like most of you: I work in an office to earn; I work toward retirement.  I get up and put on a pair of dress shoes to adorn the business casual attire required for any standard workplace.  I fight traffic instead of enemies.  I run on the treadmill instead of running through mud.  I used to carry one hundred pounds on my back and a weapon in my hands, now I carry a diaper bag, an infant car seat (with the baby in it, of course), and my workbag.  Instead of studying a tactical operation order, I plan out the best way to change a diaper, get a bottle of milk ready, and keep my one-year-old daughter amused while fighting traffic for the one hour it takes to drive to the day care. 

I’m a trained expert in many weapons, but the only weapon I yield with any proficiency today is my 7-iron.

But I’m still chasing enlightenment.

Chapter Two

Life can be quite painful; it can be as equally rewarding, too. 

I’m nearing forty and have much to be thankful for in this life: great experiences; a great education; a fantastic wife, my best friend; a wonderful career, two extraordinary children, and not much for which I desire.

When I was younger, I had the energy to be an expert in Special Operations; I had the ambition to be at the top, to be better than the rest.

I’ve few regrets in life and a few things that I still seek.

But my life is still a journey.

Today, I read about a man whose journey is now over, whose life has ended.  I read his eulogy and before its finish, I was in tears.

I think you would be too.

Before his death he had learned that a certain beauty in life was his highest value.  To him, he believed that love happened all the time, and – I presume – that to love love is the most beautiful of things to do, the most beautiful quality to obtain.

And then he learned that he was going to die.

Chapter Three

I can’t imagine what facing a certain, and calculated mortality must feel like; what it must do to a man.  It would break even the hardest among us; it might break me.  Most of us have the luxury of not knowing when our last days are going to be.

He didn’t.

He knew that death was close.

If one were to taste the bitterness of death, I believe that all of those things that once distracted us; that angered us; that burdened and annoyed us would suddenly become excess noise, unimportant, and trivial.

As well, my hunch is that those things that once inspired passion in us; those things that we no longer appreciate each day – the forgotten beauty in a piece of artwork; the magnificence of a setting sun; the smells of freshly fallen leaves; the bond between father and son; the smile from my wife when she plays with her hair; the way that she holds my hand; the way that she loves our daughter; the way that she loves me – suddenly become accentuated, central, and important again.

My mind drifts to those first moments when I met my wife to be.  Her hair was much longer, but her smile is still the same.  I remember the way that she looked at me from across the restaurant, the way that I felt the first time we went out on a date.  I remember that subtle, nearly coquettish, sway in her hips.  I remember how it held my stare, making me want to flirt back.

I remember those long hours in sub-zero, arctic-like weather as we sat in her black Volkswagen with the engine still running and the heater on high not able to say goodnight to one another even though the next day was only hours away.

I remember loving love then.

I remember that it was the only thing I cared about.

Not money.  Not ambition.  Not success.  Not status.

I just loved love.

Chapter Four

It is nearly twelve years later, and our life together is wonderful. 

Friends.  Family.  Success.  Status.

We have it.

So here I sit writing about this man’s life, reading about the things that were most important to him.

He was an accomplished man; he was a man that will be remember beyond generations; a man that accomplished more in his too-short-lived life than entire populations will accomplish in aggregate.

He has won awards.  He has been enriched.

But he still made it home for dinner every night to spend that time with his family.

He made the time to take walks with his wife.

He worried about who his daughters would date.

He worried about what kind of clothes that they wore.

He worried about his son’s graduation.

He was a man who sat with Presidents; a man who required foreign dignitaries to set an appointment; he was a man who could understandably not be interrupted when one of his children or his wife called him at the office.

But he always took their calls.

Chapter Five

I’m a writer, not by profession – not yet anyway.

I write thrillers in the Sterling Novels series, and by most of my reviews I’m a reasonably good one.  The problem, however, with writing is that it takes quite a bit of work to create just one book much less a series and, of course, without pay.  That requires a writer to find an income elsewhere.  Like most of you reading this, I have a career that pays me a salary, a career that has rewarded me well.  As I mentioned a few chapters ago: I get up, I fight traffic, and I work.

The work that I do is rewarding and is certainly fulfilling; it is very possible that I will be with my firm until I retire – in twenty years.

As thankful as I am to be in the position that I’m in, writing is where my heart is.  It is one of my great loves, it is where I find an unspoken beauty; it is where I seek enlightenment.

Earlier this month Mr. Steve Jobs passed away.

I was shocked by how his passing has affected me.  Like most of you, I was physically saddened.  The world lost a true innovator, a lover of many things.  He was passionate about his love for his family more so than that for his career.

But it will be his career how the world remembers him and rightly so: what his career has given to this world cannot be quantified with any number, or conveyed adequately enough.

It is beyond our understanding.  

Schools use his inventions to teach our children.  Doctors use his inventions to heal our sick.  Hollywood uses his inventions to entertain all of us.  The Internet was created on his machine.  His work has touched nearly every facet of our lives as well as having become the standard for others to reach and attempt to pass.

He was unique and apart from most of us, not because of his wealth, his status, or his incredible genius, or the value that he brought to this world in his far too short of a life, but because he could accomplish all of these things and still clearly see that it is to love love that is the greatest thing to obtain.

Mr. Steve Jobs was a renaissance man: a dreamer and a traveler.  When younger, he traversed through India seeking, what I can only imagine was, some form of enlightenment.

His sister reported in her eulogy of him that on his deathbed, he gazed from each of his children to the next, that he locked eyes with his beloved.

His last words were: “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.”

And then he spilled his last breath.

I believe in those moments as he balanced on the edge of his last moments, as he etched into his eternal thoughts the face of each of his children, the beauty of his wife, of his loves, that Mr. Steve Jobs did find his Nirvana, that he did taste the sweetness of enlightenment.

If we all could be so lucky…


“Don’t waste your life living someone else’s.”

-Steve Jobs

Posted by: Joseph Nagle, Author of the Sterling Novels
Books 1 & 2:

September 20, 2011

Beaten by a One Armed Man

I wanted him to die.
It’s a horrible thing to say.  I know.  But it’s true, and I’m not going to lie about it.
I wanted him to die.
Chapter One
I was ten years old and had been staying with my Grandma for the summer, my sister too; she was a bit younger.
Next to our Grandmother, we curled up.  I was on one side, my sister on the other; she stroked our heads.  My sister’s cheeks were washed with streaming tears; I couldn’t force any out.
“Ed was in an accident; his motorcycle crashed.”
He was drunk, I thought.
“They say he’s not going to make it, he is going to die.”
At least he died drunk, my thought continued.  Now, my mom can get a nice boyfriend.
I may have been young, but I wasn’t stupid. 
Far from it. 
I remember all too well the drunken rages; the sharp, ceaseless lashes of the worn leather belt, the one that still had a rodeo buckle on it.  Broken brooms.  Wooden spoons.  Pieces of metal.  Fists coming in flurries.  Boots in the back.  Forced in the basement for weeks.  Made to sit in a corner for thirty days straight.  The singe of a hot cigarette on the skin.  I remember the thrown knife that barely missed and stuck in the wall, reverberating in a mocking fashion, as if laughing at me. 
I remember the strewn bottles of Bacardi, some clear, some brown.  The Jack Daniels.  I remember his favorite mixer: Diet Coke.  (Really, Ed, Diet Coke?)
“Joseph, are you doing okay?” my Grandma asked.
“It hurts,” I lied.  What else was I going to say: Yeah, Grandma, I’m doing fu*king fantastic!  I couldn’t have wished this day to come sooner!  Maybe now I won’t have to worry about spitting up blood, and being used as a d*mn punching bag every other night!  All I want to do is get up and dance with glee; I want to party like its god-d*mn 1999!  (It was 1984; there’s a good chance Prince’s hit song hadn’t come out yet, but you get the point.)
The man that lay dying in a hospital bed abused the youth out of me.  I lived in complete fear; every day. There was always something for him to hate about a ten-year-old:  I was lazy.  I was ugly.  I was a big-mouth.  I was weak.  I was nothing.  And to prove it, that six-foot-two, thick knuckled, blue-collar, always-half-in-the-bag-ready-to-jump-in-another, man, took the pain of his life out on me.  He was quite creative too, I’ll give him that.
Chapter Two
A few days later.
“He’s going to live!” shouted my Grandmother.
Crap!  I thought.
Chapter Three
For the next year we nursed him back to health.  All of us: kids included.  We had to help him with everything.  A hospital bed was moved into the house.  We fed him, even holding his utensils and cleaning the dribble from his lips; his right arm was useless. 
Dead, said the doctor. 
They had to amputate it. 
We put his clothes on him; bathed him, changed his soiled undergarments.  That’s right: the man couldn’t use the bathroom.  Eventually, we taught him how to walk again; to use the toilet, too.
“Joseph, make me a drink!” 
That didn’t take long, I thought.  But make it, I did.  I knew the precise measurements.  Half Bacardi, half Diet Coke.  Four cubes of ice.  “Don’t f*ck it up!” he always shouted.
I was on the floor; Ed was in the chair sleeping – scratch that – passed out.  The drink was emptied.  The glass on its side.
A horrible sound split the air; it wasn’t a cackle, and it wasn’t a shout, it was somewhere in between.
Ed’s eyes shot open, I turned at the least opportune moment.  Inhaling deeply through his nasal passages, a baritone inhale sucked everything that clogged that nose of his; and collected in the back of his throat.  With the force that only a camel can appreciate, that man spat whatever ungodly mess he had gathered and right at me.
His laughter was unending; tears sprang forth from his eyes as he pointed at me with the index finger on the hand attached to the one arm that he still had. 
I got up to clean my face.
Why didn’t he die?
Chapter Four
School was over.  I was in trouble.  I always was.  I walked home slowly.  I always did.  Maybe he’ll be too drunk to notice that I’d come home.
Reaching slowly for the door handle, I let out a slow, uneven breath.  Maybe he wasn’t home. 
Looking over my shoulder, I saw it.  Out in the street, his dirty, green pickup truck was parked just where it had been that morning.
The door handle was barely in my hand when the door flung open.  A single hand grabbed me by the neck.  Spinning in a world of terror, my mind was clear.  I readied for the blows.
And they came: again, and again, and again.
On the floor I was slumped.  I was eleven.
He sized me up as I lay there.  “You aren’t going to school tomorrow!”
The bruises and cuts must have been a bit worse than normal.  Usually I’m told to say I was playing football with some friends if anyone asks.
Chapter Five
I’d been in the basement for about a week.  I couldn’t come out of it.  I had to eat there; I had to sleep there.
An electric cord hung from the ceiling.  I could wrap it around my neck.  I stared at the small, ground-level window.  I could fit through it…if it weren’t for the bars over them that were anchored into the concrete.
I buried my face into the meat of my hands.  I cried.
I hated life.
A knock came to the front door of the home.
Ed answered.
“Sir, I’m Lieutenant so-and-so, this is my partner.”
Muffled words; some louder than others.  Feet scuffled across the floor.  The door to the basement opened.
“Joseph, get up here!”
In the kitchen I sat with two detectives.  They asked questions.  I said nothing.  Ed hovered nearby.
“Would you feel better out in our car?” asked one of the detectives.  I remember her being really pretty.  Her partner, however, was a brute of a man; he seemed quite tense. 
I nodded yes.
They put me in the back seat, where the criminals usually sat.  It was dirty and smelled.  The Plexiglas divider was scratched with the pitiful frustrations of society’s worst.
I was never more comfortable.
I was never happier.
Ed ran outside; he shouted something at me.
The detective jumped out of the car; three arms flew. 
A loud crack; I could hear it through the window.
The detective stood over the one-armed man and willed him to get up.  I could see it.  He wanted Ed to rise so that he could knock him on his can again.
I smiled. 
I couldn’t help it.
Chapter Six
I would like to say the story ended happily here, but it didn’t.  The following years, until my 18th birthday, I lived in a number of shelters, group homes, and foster homes.  I went to three junior high, and seven high schools; I have no friends that I can name from those years; no family to speak of that I care to keep in my life.  It’s not the life any child should have, but it was my life, and I embraced it.  It was the closest thing to peace I had ever had. 
Later I would learn that Ed tried to rape my sister.
He was drunk of course.  She was fifteen, and he made her drink.  She was passed out.
Now you see why I wanted him to die.
I learned that survival would become my father, and that knowledge would take the place of my mother.
To the young ones that find themselves in a story similar or worse than my own: set the bar high, and when your reach it, set it higher.
You are not alone.
You can make it.

The Sterling Novels: Book 1

August 21, 2011

When the Water Broke

I was tired, really tired.  I wasn’t paying attention to the book in my hand and was drifting somewhere between being asleep and not – I was in that place where the body is completely relaxed; where all thoughts are pure and pleasurable.
It didn’t last long, it never does.
Chapter One
“Why is the bed wet?”
I’m not sure what the response to my wife’s questions was, probably something to the effect of “I’ll wash the dishes in the morning.”  I was still in that slightly incoherent, intoxicating, I-don’t-know-what-the-heck-I-just-said state.
My wife jumped out of bed and began clawing at the wet spot.
Prophetically, I was shaken from my near-sleep state.  “What’s going on?” I mumbled.
“The bed, it’s all wet.”
Now, this statement could mean a lot of things; I mean a lot of things, but most of those things were out of the question: I wasn’t suffering from malaria-induced, cold sweats; I hadn’t fallen asleep with a glass of water in my hand; I’m not a chronic bed-wetter; there wasn’t a hole in the ceiling and it sure as heck wasn’t raining outside; and – no – my wife and I weren’t…you know.  She was eight months pregnant; about the only thing happening these days in the bed was leg wrestling with the Snoogle (Men, if you don’t know what that is…learn) and partner-assisted roll the pregnant lady out of bed maneuvers.
Do the math: there’s only one possible thing, at this point in our lives, that would have caused this.
Her water broke.
Chapter Two
“There’s no way; my water didn’t break!  This is just normal for pregnancy.”
“Honey, look between your legs; it’s like a garden hose is turned on!”
That’s right – a garden hose.  Not at full speed, but it was pouring.  It’s not like in the movies, you see, there isn’t this big splash and suddenly you’re slipping all over the place.  Nope.  The water just kept on coming in one continuous, steady stream.
“My water didn’t break,” she repeated.  She was in denial.  She was scared.
Into the bathroom she went.
I left the bedroom then stopped.  I went back in then stopped.  I turned around and headed back out and stopped.
What the hell was I doing? 
Where was I going?
What am I supposed to do?
I froze. 
Take a breath, Joseph, I told myself.  My eyes drifted over to the floor; my hands were on my hips.  “Man, that’s a lot of water,” I blurted.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my wife; she was just as frazzled as I was.
I called the nurse hotline; explained everything.  The nurse’s words said it all; I could tell she was smiling through the phone when she said it:
“Somebody’s having a baby tonight!”
Well, there it was: of course someone’s having a baby tonight; I mean thousands of women around the world were probably pushing and screaming and birthing babies at that very moment.  It really wasn’t a prophetic statement.  She might as well have said: “Somebody’s breathing some air right now!”
My baby, excuse me, our baby wasn’t due for another three weeks or so, and I was mentally preparing for diapers, bottles, and late nights then and not tonight; I had to go to work in the morning, but there it was.
“Somebody’s having a baby tonight!”
The nurse had meant my wife; that we are having a baby tonight.
Chapter Three
“No!  No, I’m not! It’s not time!”
“Yes.  Yes, you are.  The nurse said so.  You’re water broke.  It’ll be fine.  Let’s get you packed up and to the hospital.”
“It’s too early!  The baby’s not due yet!”
“Sweetie, we have to go.  Put some clothes on, I’ll get the car ready.”
“No, it’s not time!”
I was face to face with my wife.  She was scared; I could see it.  We both were.  She was right, it wasn’t time.  We weren’t ready.  A moment ago, we were in the bed and both of us were falling asleep.
We were in shock.
I cupped my wife’s cheeks and smiled at her.  The tears in her eyes brought a few small ones to my own.  “Sweetie, your water broke.  The baby’s coming tonight.”
“But, I need my flat-iron!”
“No, you need to put on some underwear.”
Chapter Four
In the car, my wife called her father.  Her fear tugged at my heart.  “Dad, I’m so scared,” she repeated through her sobs.
I focused on the road ahead thankful her father was soothing her with his words.
Normally, when my wife and I drove in the same car I am certain to hear “Slow down!” and “Don’t drive so close!” and “Look out!”
Hah! Not tonight!  Tonight, I was a NASCAR driver and she didn’t mind.
I pulled up to the red light; every part of my body was on edge.  I was nervous and impatient.
I looked at the driver next to me; he looked back.
I gripped the wheel tightly and narrowed my eyes.  I might have even given the engine a slight rev.
I think his look was something like “Dude, what’s your problem?”
Pregnant wife in labor, bud!  See ya!
I floored it and blew through the red light never looking back.
It was like this for five miles; the hospital was soon in sight.
By her elbow, I helped my wife to the door; as we approached it, another couple – the woman still very pregnant – was leaving.  Obviously, this night had been a false alarm for them.
The look on their faces spoke of some small form of terror.
I could see why.
Behind my wife was a long trail of still leaking amniotic fluid; one could follow it right to where I had parked the car some twenty yards away.
Chapter Five
“Doesn’t that hurt!?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“But the graph on the computer is spiking; it’s climbing above the max!”
“I’m fine, just a little pressure, that’s all.”
Later I would learn that she was lying; it had hurt like hell.
My wife was hooked up to this machine and that machine.  The night dragged on, but we were happy; we were excited; and we were very, very scared.
The contractions came and went – for hours.  Each new one could be seen on the machine’s monitor.  The graph would churn along on a near flat line, and then would suddenly start to rise and a display of numbers would spin upward like a casino slot machine.  The spikes were coming sooner, and the steepness of the graph was shooting up much higher.
“You sure that doesn’t hurt?”
“No,” she said through closed eyes, “it’s just a little uncomfortable.”
The nurse who had monitored the machines’ measurement from her station burst through the door, “Are you alright, how are you right now?  Would you like something for the pain?”
“No, I’m fine.  It doesn’t hurt.”
Again, my wife lied.
She was scared, really scared.  That’s why she wasn’t telling us about the pain.  She was worried that something awful would happen if she told the nurse how badly it hurt.  She didn’t want to be filled with drugs and forced into labor.
I think she might have left claw marks on the hospital bed’s railing.
The sun broke and an army of doctors and nurses arrived.
It was time.
But the delivery wouldn’t be there; it would be in the Operating Room.
Chapter Six
The Operating Room was cold; I guess it had to be that way.
My wife was shaking, but it wasn’t from the cold; she was horribly frightened, I could see it on her face.  I could see it in the uncontrollable convulsions that shook her body from head to toe.
“I’m right here, sweetie, you’re doing great.”  I’d never seen her that way.  I don’t want to again.
The anesthesiologist was having trouble; he couldn’t find the right place with his needle.  My wife’s leg shot out along with a scream.  He had hit a nerve.
Her tears flowed.  I swallowed mine.
On her back, a blue veil separated us from the doctors at work.  We held hands; we stared into each other’s eyes.
There were unusual sounds and odd smells; and hard-to-hear conversations.
My wife’s eyes became heavy; the drugs were making her fall asleep.
“Stay with me, sweetie, I want you to be awake when the baby’s born.”  It wasn’t a he, or a she; at this point, we didn’t know what we were having.  We wanted to be completely surprised; to feel the anticipation.  I guess on this night we got our wish.
We continued to stare, smiling at one another.
And then we heard it, a small cry; it was a little squeak really, I don’t think newborns know yet how to cry.
“Dad, come meet your baby.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the doctor was giving my one final privilege: to be the one to say what the baby was – a boy or a girl.
I stood and looked at the baby.  Instantly, I was in love.  My eyes were wide as I focused; the baby’s eyes were wider.   It was a night of tears and this moment was no different; they welled in my eyes.
I double checked to make sure; I looked at my wife and whispered, “It’s a girl.”
At that very moment, the moment when the last letter drifted across my lips, my wife’s face glowed with a new kind of love and filled her eyes with new, joyous tears.  If I could capture that moment just to feel it one more time, I would…they were the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.
“Just what you wanted,” she smiled through those eyes, “Baby Sonia.”
Be prepared; be calm; it will be okay.

Sterling Novels Book 1

July 01, 2011

Being a Trained Killer makes me a Better Dad

I’m a trained killer – an Intelligence professional and highly skilled; the US Government spent five years and countless taxpayer dollars to train me how to kill with both my bare hands and with a myriad of weapons.
I’m an expert, according to Uncle Sam, with most of them.
I was trained to jump out of planes in both the darkness of night and when the sun is at its Zenith – fast roping from helicopters or rappelling the sheer side of a cliff is what I do, too.
I’ve seen men die in horrible places.  I’ve operated covertly on my own, and have conducted missions with platoon sized forces.  Jungles, deserts, oceans, and mountains: it doesn’t matter.
I spent many months at the Army Intelligence Center fine-tuning my craft in Interrogation, and was cross-trained in Counter-Intelligence.  Two different languages, Military Intelligence ordered me to learn.
But those days are over; civilian life and writing thrillers suits me just fine now – it’s much safer.
Now, whether it’s under cover of darkness, or during a frantic, disorganized day, I have a new target to chase; a new set of operation orders to complete – my mission is the most complicated that I’ve seen, and I’ve see a lot.
Her name is Sonia; she’s eight months old; faster than a rattler, slicker than a wet eel; she operates independently of any organized structure, and changes her demeanor at even the slightest of whims.  She’s wiry, wily, evasive, and unpredictable.
She’s the toughest challenge I’ve faced – the following is a true story, it happened earlier today:
I furrowed my brow at the mission at hand.  It was going to be a tough one.
Chapter One:
With the same focus I used when firing a round at a target during the twilight hours and nearly one kilometer away, I inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly – it was at this point, when the breath has escaped my lungs completely; when the body is most relaxed, that I would pull the trigger – today, however, it is when I gently place my half-asleep child into her crib for her afternoon nap. 
My breath is exhaled at its apex; the tension in my muscles has escaped.  Into the crib she is lowered – but her eyes are only half-closed.  Is she awake?  Is she asleep?  I can’t tell; I gamble.  My mission is close to failure; I can sense it, but onward I push.
On the mattress, I lay her; slowly I remove my arms from underneath her head.  My breath is held, I know not to inhale; not to exhale.  When I was behind the cross-hairs of a rifle, that breath would make my bullet stray.  Now, it would wake a sleeping baby.
She stirred.
I froze.
Chapter Two:
My eyes narrowed and I waited.
I’m careful to not let the new tension cascade from my brow and down my arms.  She would feel it; this I’ve learned.
I continued.
My arms are freed; she still sleeps.
Downstairs, I made my way; I’ve my next book in the Sterling Novels to complete.  This is a rare moment of idle Father-time that I desperately need.
I sat at my desk and prepared to begin, but, first, I had a phone call to make to a buddy from my Special Ops day; it had been some time since we last spoke and the opportunity was at hand.  I reached for my cell phone, but my hand grabbed nothing.
Eyeing the place it should be, there was only empty space.  I searched for it mentally: where did I put it?  Where the hell was it last?
It didn’t take long to remember.
I looked upward, and through the ceiling I imagined my daughter’s nursery above – in it, my cell phone sat on her dresser.
I sighed heavily and shook my head.  By now, I should have learned.  My mission suddenly became clear; my objective known.  Inside my mind, I ran through my Operation Orders: 1) Infiltrate, 2) Use stealth, 3) Secure and retrieve the package, 4) Do not be seen, 5) Do not get caught, and, 6) Do not fail.
Chapter Three:
I ran through a mental check-down of my plan; and then I did it again.  It had to be executed perfectly.  This is how I was trained.
The stairs were my first obstacle: wooden and full of unknown creaks.  I made my way – heel to toe; careful to distribute my weight evenly over each piece of dried wood – up them.  At the top, I kicked off my shoes; they were dead weight; they made too much noise – a potential hazard.  I checked for any loose clothing, something that might get caught on the door handle; I tugged at my pockets inspecting for loose change - I can't risk even the slightest noise.  Like dropping from a Huey into the midnight-colored waters of the Mediterranean, everything I carried and didn't carry was purposeful. 
Behind me the shoes stayed.  No coins in the pocket; all loose clothing tucked tightly away.  Forward, I tiptoed one painstakingly slow step at a time.  This was not time to be impetuous; to rush.  I controlled my breath and my movements, I edged forward.  At the frame of the door I peered into her room one eyeball at a time; a flash of fear ripped through me!
I snapped my head back, hoping that my position hadn’t been compromised.
Her eyes had briefly met mine – did she see me?
My breath was held; every muscle frozen – I waited.
Nothing.  Not a peep.
I dropped to a crouch not making the same mistake twice; inward I peered again.  I was undercover of the crib’s bumper; she hadn’t the skills yet to pull herself up and over.  I wasn’t in her line of sight.  I reconnoitered the objective; I watched for movement.  I analyzed the terrain.  I sought out the unseen dangers.
Ahead of me was a small, red & yellow plastic ball – it made noises when it was rolled.  It had to be avoided.  Near it was a toy snake – I knew this one well.  Seemingly innocuous, this was the furthest from the truth: like the venom of a cobra that attacks the nervous system, get too close to this one, and a myriad of tunes like “itsy-bitsy spider,” or “humpty-dumpty” would spew forth from its belly; it was an IED - an Improvised Ear-Splitting Device.
I had to be careful – there were booby-traps everywhere.
I shot a careful glance at the dresser; I could see the Package - the corner which was hanging slightly over the dresser’s edge: my objective was at-hand.
Chapter Four:
I dropped to my back and melted into the floor.  Taking one final breath, I let it out even more slowly than the last.  This was it.  It was now or never.  It was not going to be without pain, this I knew.  My elbows ground deeply into the Berber carpet, every passing inch rubbed more of them raw.
I inched myself backward, my face stared into the ceiling.  I made no noise.  Inside my head, I scoured over the mental-map of the room, and booby-traps I had identified on the floor.  I slithered slowly past them, my path was by no means straight.
The minutes rolled by; the sweat started to bead.  One lone drop trickled down my forehead and into my eye.  The salt stung, but I ignored it; this was no time to succumb to pain; to be weak.  My mission was foremost and I was only half-way there.  Onward, I pressed stopping momentarily to listen.  I tuned into the rhythms of her breathing, counting each breath against the seconds.  They were slow and methodical – they were the signs of deep, infant-sleep.
At the base of the dresser, I reached up for the phone; victory was so close.
The damn thing rang!  Who the hell was calling me now!  Don't they know it's naptime - friggin' single friends!
Sonia started to scream!
I jumped to my feet!  Stealth would no longer be my approach.  I was compromised; a new tactic would have to take place!
I snatched the phone but across the room it flew and against the wall it smacked!
Sonia screamed louder; my mission was still clear in my mind; my objective clearer – Do not fail!
I grabbed the nook; plugged the hole.  The screams escalated behind the rubber of the nook; I refused to give up-my focus never wavered.  I sensed it; the screams turned to cries; and the cries soon to whimpers.  I sang, I rocked, and I caressed her face.  One lone tear trickled down the side of her cheek; I wiped it gently away.
Two big, round eyes stared back at mine; from behind the nook, a long smile stretched followed by a yet to be discerned one-syllable consonant.
And then her eyes closed.
Adapt.  Improvise.  Overcome.

Sterling Novel: Book 1