* Some names have been changed to protect the innocent…or not so innocent.
Mystery writers are not like normal people. Call me ghoulish, but nothing gives me a charge like hanging out with cops, coroners, emergency room doctors, etc. who deal with the aftermath of crimes.
Recently I attended the terrific Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. It offered a smorgasbord of experts in various fields, directly or indirectly related to writing. On Saturday afternoon, I fell into the fortuitous circumstance of hanging out with an FBI agent and a forensic pathologist. For a mystery/suspense writer, it doesn’t get any better!
The FBI agent, whom I’ll call “G-Man,” is himself a writer and fan of classic detective fiction by Ed McBain, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane. G-Man dresses like Eliot Ness—suit, tie, wingtips, and fedora, 100% classy, although he cautions the gang detail dress code is much different. He’s worked high-profile Colorado cases including the shootings at the Aurora theater, Arapahoe High School, and Planned Parenthood.
The forensic pathologist, M.R. (Meg) Rutter, writes urban fantasy in addition to her day job. She has processed mass graves in Bosnia and Africa and explained how forensic anthropologists (AKA forensic archeologists) are often called in for very old graves and entombments because they know how to preserve delicate evidence from fragile, long-buried bodies.
Both expressed a driving desire to find justice for crime victims. I felt fortunate to make the acquaintance of two decent, compassionate human beings doing tough jobs most of us wouldn’t have the stomach for.
G-Man and Meg embraced gallows humor as the defense mechanism adopted by those who deal with gruesome tragedy on a daily basis. One unforgettable autopsy description was of a badly bloated body whose gas-filled intestines floated out through the cavity incision like balloon animals. I may never look at balloons the same way again!
My good friend, writer/editor Karen Albright Lin, had brought along a bottle of champagne (cleverly disguised in a grocery bag) to celebrate my winning the Zebulon Contest with my suspense novel Instrument of the Devil. We wanted to toast our new friends G-Man and Meg, but, since we were only a few feet from the bar, we needed to be a little circumspect. A refreshment table offered plastic water glasses, but G-Man couldn’t abide drinking champagne out of plastic. Didn’t I say he was classy?
He and I sidled over to the bar, where he smoothly convinced the bartender to give him several empty stemmed goblets. The barkeep didn’t ask, we didn’t tell.
Back in our corner, G-Man opened the bottle without a telltale pop, only a faint hiss, like a virgin’s sigh. We enjoyed our surreptitious celebration, amid more stories only crime writers could appreciate.
Eliot Ness might not have approved, but I will long remember drinking champagne with the FBI.
P.S. FBI.gov is a rich resource of story ideas.