Thursday, September 12, 2013

T. S. O'Neil and Tampa Star

Today, the guest on my blog is T.S. O'Neil, author of Tampa Star. Read about him and an excerpt from his book. As always, I love to hear your comments.

Tell us a little about yourself? 

I am 53 years young and originally from Newington, CT. I went to undergraduate school at Northeastern University in Boston and have an MBA from the University of Phoenix in Technology Management.  I spent a good amount of time in the military; first as an enlisted Marine in the Marine Reserve, then about ten years on active duty as an officer in the Military Police Corps of the U.S. Army, and I finished out my career in the Army Reserve.

During that time, I travelled a lot of the world, picked up Spanish, as the Army sent me to language school and managed to have a lot of fun and mostly managing to avoid combat.  While most sane people look at the being shot at as merely a life threatening situation, those in the military look at it as an opportunity for career advancement. 

As a careerist, I was an abject failure as I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meaning wherever I happened to be, peace was breaking out like mad. 

I was supposed to jump into Omar Torrejo Airport with the Rangers during Operation Just Cause, but instead I went on to the MP Officer Advance Course. The invasion took place in December of 89, as I drove home to Connecticut for Christmas break members of my former unit parachuted into glory.  Later, as I sat in Panama enjoying the new era of peace and prosperity, Operation Desert Storm took place. My luck finally caught up with me, and I spent part of a tour in Iraq. Other than a couple of nights of rocket fire, the period in Iraq was relatively peaceful.  

I got out of the military and eventually gravitated to the IT Field.  I am currently an IT Architect for a healthcare company. I live in Seminole Florida with the love of my life, Suzanne, and we are getting married on Oct 4th of this year.

What made you want to become a writer?

I have a very active imagination and was always getting into trouble in grade school for day-dreaming. I think being a fiction writer is a great endeavor in that you get to invent your own reality and create a different world.

What genre do your works fall into? 


What about this genre appeals to you?  

I think it’s interesting to impart thrills and suspense into the plot and ensnare the reader in the action. My military background allows me to place believable technical and operational characteristics into the storyline that lends a certain level of credibility to the characters and story.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read? 

I published Tampa Star late last year, and it is my first book. It’s the story of a father and son that’s told in two parts. The first part of the book starts in the early seventies in the aftermath of the Viet Nam war. The father, Char, is a Seminole Indian and former Green Beret who is wounded by a dead guerrilla in the aftermath of a firefight. He is subsequently evacuated and discharged with a bum leg. 

Char moves to the Florida Gulf Coast, gets a job, meets a girl and life seems to be going his way, until he falls in with the wrong crowd and things spiral out of control from there.

The second part of the book picks up in two thousand and four when the son, a former Recon Marine Officer, is discharged and travels to Florida in search of his father.

The story has a host of villains you will love to hate, including a corrupt cop, a Mafia Capo and a Russian ex-CIA interrogator.

I think the story has a lot to offer as the characters are richly drawn and are believable. I takes place in and around Florida and is written in the “Florida Glare” style of authors like Elmore Leonard and Laurence Shames.  It’s got the same style of witty, realistic and somewhat caustic dialog that they are known to employ. 

What gives you inspiration for your book?

Elmore Leonard, may he rest in peace, taught me to believe that you can and should try to write the way people speak. People are funny and say lots of humorous things in all sorts of tense situations.  

I believe some of the funniest guys in history are Service Members; a catch all phrase for Soldier, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. I think it’s because they are often living in austere conditions and have lots of time on their hands. Someone once said that war is interminable boredom punctuated by moments of terror.  An active imagination is what keeps you in good spirits and help you fill the void or salve your fear.   I bet King Leonidas was an especially funny guy to be able to crack wise when confronted by hundreds of thousands of Persian Soldiers.  “Come get them,” is, if not the first bad ass line in history, probably the best known.

Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

Inspiration for the character of Char Blackfox, the main protagonist in Tampa Star and Starfish Prime, came from various places.  Some of his character was based on a few of the old Vietnam era soldiers and Marines I met when I first entered the service back in 1977. 

Some parts of Char’s history came from a real life.  In the book, Tampa Star, Char was wounded by a dead guy in Vietnam. This actually happened to a Platoon Sergeant I knew in Korea in almost exactly the same fashion.

The Platoon Sergeant nearly lost a leg because he killed a VC guerrilla and then pulled the rifle away from the dead man while his just dead finger still enveloped the trigger.  He had to be reclassified as an MP because he was no longer fit enough to serve in the infantry. 

Char’s son Michael is more the new strain of service member; more cerebral, but still willing to kick ass and take names.  

Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why? 

I would say Char Blackfox is my favorite character because he is the first one I developed, and he is sort of an older version of me. Life has kicked Char around a lot, but he always comes back swinging. I made him a Seminole Indian in honor of the tribe and their place in Florida History. I heard about some battles fought here during the First and Second Seminole War and thought them to be great warriors.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?

That I didn’t become a rich, well known and bestselling author overnight. Seriously, though, the mount of marketing and promotion that you have to do to become a known commodity is daunting.  Writing the book appears to be the easy part.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you either growing up or as an adult?

Another great book is Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer.  It’s a book that I loved reading and a movie that was very entertaining, at least to me.  The protagonist, played by Ryan O’Neal, is watching his world crumble all around him; his wife leaves him, he can’t stop drinking and oh yeah, there’s two heads in a bag in the basement, and he is left trying to figure out how they got there. I would always watch the movie when my life was at a low point and it would allow me to say: “Well, at least I don’t have it as bad as that guy.”  

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer?  If so, what do you do during the day? 

I got out of the military and eventually gravitated to the IT Field.  I am currently an IT Architect for a healthcare company.

What is your favorite writing tip or quote?

Elmore Leonard famously said; “try to write the stuff people want to read and leave the rest out.”

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Do you have any other books in the works?

Starfish Prime will be released early next year. I am about ninety percent done with Starfish Prime, the second book in the Blackfox Chronicles. This time, Michael Blackfox is pulled back into the Marine Corps. Since he has been out, a new Special Operations unit has been formed, and his skill set makes him uniquely qualified for their current mission. He is forced to join or watch his father be sent to jail for the crimes he committed in Tampa Star

Where can we find you online? 

Twitter: @tselliot3

Book Blurb

Char Blackfox is a Seminole Indian and former Green Beret maimed by a dead guerilla in Viet Nam, Hell-bent on extracting revenge against the Aussie tycoon that wronged him.   He falls in with the wrong crowd; two small time Irish-American hoodlums, a corrupt cop and an exiled Rhode Island Mafia Capo. 
In 2004, a combat hardened Force Recon Marine is released from active duty and returns to Florida to find his estranged father, one of the original robbers still on the run from his former partners. 


Chapter 22 - Eidetic Eddie Doyle

Detective Doyle sat in his small windowless office surrounded by mementos from over thirty five years of police work, mostly as a homicide detective, and felt tired. He was 58 years old, and had been a policeman for over half his life.  He wanted to retire when he hit forty years on the job, if his bum ticker held out that long.

Pinellas County Sheriff Department needed good detectives and Eddie was one of the best.  They called him Eidetic Eddie, as he was known for his uncanny ability to remember little details about cases that frequently resulted in an arrest and conviction.

In 1985, Eddie investigated the death of a prostitute on Rt. 19 in Dunedin. A drugged out hooker had fallen in front of an eighteen wheeler and was killed; pretty straight forward actually—death by Mack truck. For all intents and purposes, the case should have been an open and shut case, and it would have been, if not for Eddie’s uncanny memory.

Eight years earlier, Eddie sat in on a roll call briefing concerning a pimp named “Smooth Earle” who carried an ivory cane with a handle made of a gold death head skull with red ruby eyes which was often used to motivate some of his girls to apply themselves harder.

A Medical Examiner had conducted a preliminary investigation of the prostitute’s corpse at the scene but didn’t notice anything strange at the time, until Eidetic Eddie pointed it out—among the many wounds on the woman’s horribly mangled body was a strange circular gash above her left eyebrow.  Upon closer examination, small gashes clearly denoted the eyes, nose and mouth of a skull. Better still—a small red ruby was deeply embedded in one of the wounds. 

An autopsy was ordered and it was determined that the blow above the eye had killed her and all the other injuries occurred postmortem. A subsequent search of Smooth Earl’s vehicle, a pimped out 1984 Ford LTD, turned up the cane with one missing ruby eye.  Earl copped a plea to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life at the Okaloosa Correctional Institution.

It was said that Eddie’s short marriage to another officer ended because Eddie’s computer like recitation of everything that had ever happened to him, and to her for that matter, drove her to distraction; No anniversary or birthday was ever forgotten and most arguments about “who said what” were essentially rendered moot as Eddie’s version was always the most accurate. 

In a phrase, Eddie made his wife totally “bat-shit crazy.”  She asked for a divorce and quickly moved in with a motorcycle cop said to have a Neanderthal level I.Q— he heard they were quite happy.  Since then, Eddie bought a boat and took up fishing in the gulf.

After he was diagnosed with a heart murmur, Eddie made movement towards retirement, but his longtime friend, Sam Waller, who also happened to be the Pinellas County Sheriff, asked him to take a less hectic position in Internal Affairs.  He had been there for the last three years and although the pace was calmer, he found investigating other cops to be disagreeable.

 The other cops seemed to feel the same way; overnight, Eddie went from local celebrity to pariah.  Still, the hours were good; once and a while he would get called out for an officer involved shooting, but it was mostly a nine to five existence, with weekends free.  Since he was representing the long arm of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, he dressed in business casual, normally Khaki pants and an American Eagle Outfitters Polo Shirt—he had a different color for every day of the week. 

As a service revolver, Eddie wore an ancient stainless steel snub nose, Colt .38 left exposed on his belt.  The younger cops joked that Eddie would have better luck throwing the revolver at a suspect rather than shooting at them.

 The Sheriff himself asked Eddie to have a talk with Deputy Guy Handley regarding “being found handcuffed to a thug in a cheap motel in High Springs.”  The Sheriff, having a penchant for understatement, mentioned that the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident involving Handley seemed “a bit odd.”

Handley had been a problem child from the start, but they had never been able to prove anything against him.  Rumor had it that he collected protection money or other services from the numerous massage parlors and strip clubs located within the county.  But that was just a rumor and without substantiation, stayed that way.

 Handley was very careful to always have a reason for visiting a locale that might include checking to see that no minors were being served or that the maximum occupancy was being violated. He was always one step ahead of the regular Internal Affairs types. 

Eddie remembered Guy Handley.  How could he not? He remembered everyone he ever met, but Handley was an odd duck.  Eddie had been involved in a scuffle with a suspect that resulted in a dislocated collarbone and he was given he was given admin tasks to do until he healed up.  One of the more onerous tasks given him during light duty was the conduct of background investigations of new hires and Guy Handley was one of these.  Eddie quickly learned that Handley had been fired from the Tampa Police Force for excessive force a few years previously.

Still, that was a long time ago and the incident was not serious enough to warrant criminal charges.  Just some punk who got a beating during an arrest, “old style police work” that Eddie did not specifically approve of, but he was familiar with the emotions that caused it.  “Testosterone poisoning,” his wife used to say.

He gave Handley the benefit of the doubt and put a positive spin on the background investigation—Pinellas Sheriff Department needed deputies at the time.  Another thing that Eddie remembered about Guy Handley was that he was found trespassing on private property on Halloween Night in 1974. 

Even if he didn’t have an eidetic memory, he would have never forgotten that night.  An unexpected storm battered the coastline with record producing waves and was later found to be responsible for the sinking of a local cruise ship, the Princess of Tampa.  Eddie was a patrol deputy at the time and had responded to a report of a prowler at a waterfront mansion in Tierra Verde. 

Handley was found soaking wet and semi-clothed, his shirt having been stripped off him in the heavy surf.  He was also beaten up and bloody and claimed to have fallen off a party boat and been bashed on the rocks trying to make land.  Doyle and a partner gave him a ride to a local motel and that was the last official action taken in the case. 

Later that night, a fellow deputy apprehended an escaped bank robber by the name of James O’Brien, walking across the causeway and a large yacht was found washed ashore at Fort DeSoto.  What were the chances that any of these events were related to Guy Handley?  

The current incident was dialed in by a deputy up near Gainesville concerning Handley being found beat-up and handcuffed to a twenty-something tattooed hoodlum in a local motel.  Strange stuff, that.  Looks to the contrary notwithstanding, the thug was clean; no rap sheet, no wants or warrants—at least one tied to the last name he gave upon his arrest. 

So, the plot thickened.  He figured that Handley would “Lawyer Up” before any interview as that was the standard operating procedure employed by the Pinellas County's police union.  The rumor mill also claimed that Handley was an associate of Sally Boots as he had been seen on numerous occasions in a strip club Sally owned by an undercover narc that Eddie had known for years. 

Whatever Handley was doing near Ginnie Springs might have had something to do with the old gangster.  The association was deniable and he figured that he had little to gain by calling him in for an interview.  It would put Handley on notice that he was being watched, but little else.

The hood was spending time up in the Gainesville Jail thanks to an unregistered firearm found in his pocket.  There might be another way to approach this case, thought Eddie.  He might just take a trip to the Gainesville jail and stop by the Sherriff’s station near Ginnie Springs just for good measure.

Eddie looked at the information sheet supplied by the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Department. The suspect’s name was Vito Viticoltore. Eddie looked at the mug shot. The thug was wearing a “wife-beater” t-shirt, one without sleeves, sometimes called a muscle shirt.  He was heavily tattooed and looked like he spent a lot of time in the gym. 

Something about the thug’s last name struck him odd; “Hey, Falcon, what the fuck does Viticoltore mean?” He shouted into the squad bay.  Mike Falcon, a short stocky detective in the burglary division stuck his head into Eddie’s office.  “How the fuck would I know? I was born in Maryland!”

 “Come on, Cocksucker, I know your parents came right off the boat from Sicily” countered Doyle.

 “Jeez, Eddie, did you ever once forget one thing?”

“You know the answer to that, now answer my question!”

“I think it means Winemaker.  Are you happy now, douchebag?” 

“Yes, yes I am,” replied Eddie. 

The next morning Eddie left his houseboat before the sun was up and arrived at the Gainesville Jail just after breakfast.  He had stopped at a Burger King off the Interstate and bought a sausage, egg and cheese croissant and large coffee, and brushed the remnants off the sandwich off his Blue Polo shirt as he walked in the Gilchrest County Jail.  Eddie asked for the duty officer, identified himself and asked to meet with the suspect.  He was escorted into an interview room to see the suspect, who had been denied bail as he was considered a flight risk.

“What the fuck you want with me, pig?” Spat Vito Viticoltore through the interview screen. He was even more pleasant in person than Eddie had hoped.  The thug was dressed in a prisoner’s trademark orange jumpsuit and wore both hand and leg cuffs, chained together and locked to his chair which severely limited his movements.

They sparred verbally for a little, and Eddie got the distinct impression that the thug thought he held the upper hand.  “You got nothing but a misdemeanor gun charge on me and you know what? It’s not my gun. It belongs to that cop, Handley”. 

“Yeah, but what was it doing in your pocket, stud?” Countered Eddie. “Doesn’t matter, fuck-stick, as soon as my lawyer gets here, I will be out on bail.” Eddie knew that might probably be true, but in this case he had a hole card that he decided to show.  “Actually, I am not here to ask you about that, he countered, I am more interested in your last name.” “What the fuck do you want to know about my last name?”

“Well, the funny thing is that when we run the name;  Viticoltore, it comes back clean, so that either means you are  clean, which I severely doubt or that’s not your real name.“  The hood looked away inadvertently and then caught himself and stared at Eddie with cold, venom filled eyes. 

“I thought about the name and found out it means “Winemaker,” did you know that kid?”  The thug said nothing, so Eddie continued.  “So I thought about it and I did a search of the known associated database that the FBI runs; see we have read access to it, and I did a search on the term “winemakers”  and lo and behold, I came up with a Mustache Pete by the name Carlos “the Winemaker” Gambochinno. Sound familiar?” He is an old gangster, a made member of the Patriarca crime family, and a known associate of a local gangster by the name of Sally Boots; ever heard of him?” He asked the thug and then continued as if he already knew the answer.  

“It seems this scumbag had several children; one of them, a Vito Gambochinno, is currently wanted for armed robbery in the state of Massachusetts.  Here is a picture of him, said Eddie as he held the picture up for the thug to see. I think you will agree that he bears a sticking resemblance to you, right down to the tattoos.  So, I wouldn’t worry about making bail right now, but if you want to cooperate and start telling the truth about why you were handcuffed to Deputy Handley, I think we could work out a deal.” 

“It had something to do finding something valuable that had been hidden for a long time is all I was told.  Handley told me to work this guy over until he took us to his old man.” 

“And the guy’s father knew where the valuables were hidden?” Asked Eddie. 

“Yeah, but the cocksucker turned the table on us, came flying through door like the terminator or some shit,” the hood smiled tentatively.

“What was the guy’s name?”

“I didn’t ask—it was just a job to earn some coin while I was….”

“On the lam?” Eddie offered.

“On vacation,” corrected Vito.

“OK, Vito that will keep you from getting shipped up north for a while. How would you like to get transferred down to Pinellas County, we got lots of great Italian food down there?” 

“Sure, replied the hoodlum, this place thinks a baloney sandwich is a Grinder.”  

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