CORRIDOR OF DARKNESS, a Novel of Nazi Germany, TAKES BRONZE IN INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS COMPETITION!

My first novel inspired by the espionage adventures of my father, Corridor of Darkness, a Novel of Nazi Germany, received a bronze medal today in the Suspense/Thriller category of the 18th annual 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards competition, the world’s largest book awards contest.

Since 1996 this contest has recognized excellence in independent publishing, and this year’s competition received 5340 entries  coming from the US, Canada, and ten countries overseas. The 2014 IPPY Awards medal ceremony will be held on May 28th in New York, on the eve of the BookExpo America convention.

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Here’s a shot of Corridor of Darkness celebrating its award on a well-deserved getaway to Florida. The book’s been working hard.

Photo courtesy of Roberta Campbell Lawman

Photo courtesy of Roberta Campbell Lawman

My sincere thanks to all of you who have  given my debut novel your support. Beacon of Vengeance, the sequel, is due for publication mid-summer.

Please spread the word that Corridor of Darkness is available as a paperback at on-line retailers and at select bookstores, such as Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, CA, and as an eBook at http://www.amazon.com/Corridor-Darkness-Novel-Nazi-Germany-ebook/dp/B00GLFIS0W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398437044&sr=8-1&keywords=corridor+of+darkness

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CORRIDOR OF DARKNESS, A Novel of Nazi Germany, NOW IN BOOKSTORES

To all you fans of the Ryan Lemmon espionage story, thank you, thank you, thank you! Your enthusiastic response as readers and reviewers has been truly heartwarming, and is driving outstanding on-line book sales of both the paperback and eBook versions as far away as Great Britain and Australia.

But here’s news: several independent bookstores are now stocking this thriller that Kirkus Reviews calls “an intriguing early WWII spy yarn in a well-researched, authentic Germany.”

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For Sacramento-area readers, please visit Face in a Book on Town Center in El Dorado Hills to pick up your copy, or to give as a gift to anyone who loves historical fiction. The bookstore edition is of especially fine quality.

Should your favorite bookstore elsewhere not yet carry it, whether independent or chain, ask them to order a copy . Better yet (spoiler alert: shameless self-promotion ahead…), suggest they carry it on their shelves. They’ll find it as ISBN 978-0-9910782-2-6 in the Ingram Catalog.

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Of course, it’s always available as either eBook or trade paperback on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Corridor-Darkness-Novel-Nazi-Germany/dp/0991078209/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390143032&sr=1-1&keywords=corridor+of+darkness

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And for all you waiting to read BEACON OF VENGEANCE, the second in the series of Ryan Lemmon adventures in Nazi-occupied Europe, watch for publication this summer!

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MY LIFE IN THE MILITARY: Final Episode: Making the World Safe for Democracy, One Autobahn at a Time

So, if you’re interested in the rest of the story, let’s take a look at the demanding job I took on…

(For those  who have read the previous posts on this topic, you already know that in 1970 I went from expecting to risk  life and limb in artillery fire direction control in Vietnam to a cushy job as enlisted command interpreter to two generals and their staffs in Germany when the Cold War was at its height.)

Since the Army recognized no such “occupational specialty,” my new job as an interpreter needed some interpretation of its own  to pass official muster. The chief of staff designated me an “admin specialist.” Fine by me, since it sure beat waiting to be transferred to Vietnam. So I rode a desk most days, translating any German or French correspondence where my Top Secret security clearance gave me permission to read what the German civilians on staff weren’t allowed to see. I was also assigned the job–never did figure out why–of radioing in helicopter pilots who wanted to land out on our  parade grounds to drop off or pick up some VIP. And when the general gave a public address on any occasion, there I was at his side.

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I was unpacked and all set up in the enlisted barracks. And because I often had some time on my hands at headquarters, and all the bound Army regulations were staring at me from a bookshelf, I decided to see how I could move off-caserne and into a private apartment.

Sure enough, nothing in the “regs” expressly prohibited it, although most everyone thought that was only allowed for married men whose spouses had joined them and who couldn’t get on-base housing. So when I broached the subject with the first sergeant, he categorically denied the possibility. When I showed up the next day with the reg book in hand, he reconsidered, but said I needed permission from my supervising officer. The deputy commander said fine, the general said fine, so soon I had a nice one-bedroom about ten minutes from the caserne.

But not before I learned about KP. For the uninitiated, that’s Kitchen Police, a remnant of times past before the all-volunteer Army. Back in 1970 enlisted men had to work a long, long day in the kitchen from time to time. Now while I was still barracks-bound, I was informed that  I’d have to report for KP the following morning. What no one mentioned was  to tie a towel to my bunk so that the sergeant would know whom to awaken at four a.m.  When I awoke of my own accord and managed to reach the kitchen I learned that I had, by default, earned the right to spend the next 18 hours or so with my hands in scalding water, scrubbing clean all the  pots and pans. By day’s end, and despite the rubber gloves, my fingers resembled waterlogged sausages, and within the week all my fingernails dropped off like dead beetles.

“What the hell happened to your hands?” demanded the general.

“KP, sir.”

“No more KP for you, son. Join the Color Guard instead.”

So the next day I was practicing marching the parade grounds out front of headquarters wearing a bright-silver helmet liner, a white sash-and-belt contraption and some fancy-schmantzy spats on my boots. We followed those  flags round and round and did a lot of very smart saluting.

“Saw you down there on the parade grounds today, O’Bryon. Not much of a marcher, are you?”

I saw my opening and took it. “No, sir, cadence doesn’t seem to be my thing.”

“Can’t have you throwing off the Color Guard, son. No more of that for you. And no more of that damned KP, either.

“Works fine for me, sir.”

“And while we’re at it, what’s the story with the cock-a-mamie hat?”

(You readers should know that I wear a larger hat size than many, and the Army had only one in my size when I received my regulation clothing. That poor hat had lain in the rejection pile for ever and a day because it was lopsided and a deep gash creased its shiny bill.)

“That’s the only one they had,” I explained.

“Well, have the quartermaster order another,” said the general, “and in the meantime, no more Color Guard, no more KP, and for that matter, when we go out anywhere official, wear a business suit. You got a suit, O’Bryon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fine,” he said, “a suit for everyday business, have them rent you a tux for fancy dress occasions. Until you earn sufficient rank, I don’t need these locals thinking I’m sending a low-level specialist to conduct business on my behalf.” Which he was.

Whenever the general did send me out on official business, I wore a suit and the driver of his sedan was in fatigues. For example, when the soldiers on the firing range overshot their targets and almost wiped out a local German farmer on his tractor, the General sent a 22-year-old enlisted man in a business suit to meet with the local village mayor and patch up relations with our NATO ally. When a few of our GI’s decided it would be fun to reenact a shoot-out with cap guns on a city street (!), guess who got to try to calm down the local authorities. (These days, of course, they would have all been mowed down by terrorist-savvy police.)

Evening events were something altogether different. When I accompanied the general and his wife to fancy balls held by the German and French commands, I wore a tux. And everyone assumed I was a civilian employee of the military, which was fine by me.

About the only time I wore a uniform (other than around the office) was when an Army vehicle managed to run over and kill a local civilian. Then the general had me attend the funeral services in dress blues, standing graveside to receive the damning stares and hate-filled glances of the poor bereaved family. I couldn’t blame them one bit, and I got rather practiced in expressing condolences. This part I hated.

Except the one time, when an 85-year-old was the dearly departed, his friends were all about the same age, and we all sat around a table drinking beer and schnapps and celebrating his life. “He would have wanted it this way, being run over by an Army truck,” said his sister with a smile, “he always loved the US Army.” Then we went to stand graveside as an oom-pah-pah band sent him on his way.

And that was that. I had an apartment and a good job with benefits. I bought a used car from a homeward-bound GI. And my prospects for some nice European travel looked good.

Now when I got my private apartment it was made clear that I had to be within fifteen minutes of the caserne and have a telephone on the premises for the occasional surprise alert. In case you don’t know, an alert would be announced in the very early morning and the entire command would gather in the old bunkers (my caserne had been an SS  tank division headquarters), pretending like the Soviet bombs were about to drop on us. Officially, no one knew when the top brass would decide to pull one of these surprises on the commands.

One evening, as I prepared to leave his office, the general mentioned in passing that I might want to sleep lightly that night, just in case something came up early the next morning. So I arose in the dark about four a.m., put on my fatigue uniform, and sat by the door, waiting to hear the phone ring  in my landlady’s apartment above my own. Then came that muffled sound from the telephone coming through the ceiling, I hear her tripping down the stairs in great haste, I grab my cap and stand by the door, and the minute she starts knocking on it–“Herr O’Bryon, Alarm, Alarm!–I open up and race past her with a quick thanks, off to do my duty. I can still hear her say in German: “Mein Gott, these Americans really are prepared!”

Once in the bunker, I sat for an hour with the general as we polished off a carton of donuts and several cups of coffee. I’m sure America felt safer still asleep in its bed, knowing we were on the job.

One enjoyable development was when the general decided to give me a half-day off every time I had to attend an evening event . What wasn’t exactly specified was whether I could combine these half-days into an extended period away from my demanding duties. So naturally I assumed that it was okay to take an aggregate week off and head to Vienna in my newly-acquired old Mercedes 180. The vacation was great, thanks for asking.

So when I got back a week later–and yes I had checked the commander’s schedule and the deputy commander gave my idea the thumbs up–the first sergeant of headquarters company (to which we were all officially assigned) had me picked up as AWOL and marched before the captain’s desk for appropriate punishment.

“Did you check with the general?” I asked with the greatest respect.

Turned out no one had.

The dress functions were great. I remember clearly one hosted by the local French command. Just imagine riding up a tall hill to a German medieval castle at night with French soldiers holding flaming torches lining the drive, the general and his wife in back of the sedan, me in my tux next to the  driver, little American flags on the fenders flapping in the wind. The French military band welcoming us with great fanfare as we emerge to enter the castle’s grand hall decked out colorfully with a great feast on long buffet tables. Once there, the general wanted me to be available, but told me to go have fun, which usually amounted to chatting up the daughters of the French and German command officers, who would have had me shot had they known I was an enlisted man in disguise. Instead, they treated my royally and allowed me to date some of their daughters.

On one occasion I found myself alone at a huge buffet. Having a fondness for European bakery specialties, I thought the flake-pastry swans filled with whipped cream especially tempting, so I took a huge bite. Mayonnaise…for dipping. Repulsed by the oily mess on my tongue and afraid of discovery having consumed half of a condiment-bearing swan, I pivoted toward the wall and right into the face of Mrs. General. Who was desperately trying to spit into a napkin the mayonnaise-filled half-swan she had just bitten off, following my lead, I assume. Following her lead, I grabbed a linen napkin of my own and disposed of the evidence of our crude American manners.

One sad day toward the end of my service I was promoted to Specialist 5th Class, and the general decided I had attained sufficient rank to attend a formal function in dress blues. It was amazing to see how quickly I lost the camaraderie of all those officers once they knew I was a mere enlisted man, but I’d had a good run. They never learned that their daughters had been in on my secret.

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There are probably many other stories to tell, but there you pretty much have it…my sterling military career. I worked for two generals before I hung up my business suits, my dress blues and tux, and headed home to America.

Many fought and died during that Vietnam era, including friends I made during training. Many others came home wounded, both mentally and physically.  Many still suffer from those wounds today. I respect, thank and honor them for what they had to go through and for the contributions they selflessly made.

And whenever someone asks what I did during that period and I tell them these details, they always respond by saying “Why, you lucky ***********!” or something equally supportive.

As for me, I am the first to admit it–in many ways I was just damned lucky.

 

 Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in European Travel, Memoir, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

AN ALL-TOO-BRIEF VISIT TO CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA

Carmel-by-the-Sea. Ridiculously charming. Incredibly costly (a nice 1500- square-foot bungalow might be yours for only $1,200,000, but wouldn’t you prefer a great ocean view at $5M or, hey, why not $10M?).  But all so full of character it’s well worth a visit.

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You’re sure to find restaurants from the superb to the so-so, which makes deciding where to eat quite difficult. We ask in the local shops for suggestions and are seldom disappointed. Art galleries are also plentiful, so there are always new and beautiful paintings, photographs and sculpture for pleasurable window shopping (and if your budget allows, you are always welcome to enter and purchase.).

Typically cutesy-quaint on Ocean Avenue

Typically cutesy-quaint on Ocean Avenue

Oh, did I mention the stunning city beach with breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean, the sandy shore a perfect frame for every sunset? Don’t miss Scenic Drive with its incredible homes as you head south from Ocean Avenue, and famed 17-Mile Drive heading out of town to the north.

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I’m always amazed to encounter  Californians who have never visited this tucked-away idyll, even though it lies only a few hours’ drive from many areas of the state. Vacationers often stop short at Monterey for its famed aquarium and beautiful bay, but fail to drive  just a few minutes farther south. All you need  do is turn  down Ocean Avenue to enter this jewel of a town and feel welcome.

For those of you who know Carmel-by-the-Sea, there’s probably nothing new for you in this post. But if you—like me—enjoy small towns in Europe, Carmel is one of the few worthy stand-ins for a quick getaway at far less expense than a trip overseas.

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So get up early when the shopkeepers are sweeping up before their stores. Wander down from one of the many bed and breakfasts or small hotels to find a morning coffee. A few good European-style bakeries in town, as well.

Having just returned from three days of relaxation and writing, I can recommend a few places.

For the best java, try Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co., offering an excellent organic selection.

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For breakfast, should your B&B offerings be too predictable for your tastes, check out La Bicyclette at Dolores & 7th. The aroma of freshly-baked European breads alone will draw you in. Great for other meals, too.

For a delicious (and entertaining) lunch, spend a midday hour at Dametra Café, on Ocean between Dolores and Lincoln. This Mediterranean restaurant offers appealing takes on food and wine, and a family-run atmosphere with friendly staff that might just break into music and song at a moment’s notice. And  little children playing with wooden toys on the floor at the back. Dametra advertises a restaurant “Like nowhere else.” It’s true.

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And for dinner, make reservations for Casanova, 5th Avenue and Mission, known for its romantic atmosphere and French- and Italian-inspired cuisine. We’ve returned time and again and never been disappointed. Dine out front under the trees (and heat lamps on a cooler evening, if needed), or ask for an inside table in the two small front rooms off to the left as you enter for a more intimate dining experience.

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Where to stay?

We tend to try someplace new at each visit, but we do find the Cypress Inn (Lincoln and 7th) particularly pleasant, with its beautiful courtyard for dining or a drink, its 1930’s architectural flair, a gracious staff, and plenty of  dogs who bring their well-trained humans to this pet-friendly inn.

Photo courtesy of Cypress Inn website

Photo courtesy of Cypress Inn website

Yes, dogs. Be prepared for canines of every breed and beauty, for Carmel is one of the dog-friendliest places we’ve visited.

See Spot run. See Spot run on Carmel beach.

See Spot run. See Spot run on Carmel beach.

Many places also welcome cats, even providing cat strollers (!). Try out the Carmel Country Inn (Dolores and 3rd), for example, and please scratch the head of their geriatric feline-in-residence, Tescher. He expects it. This beloved figure steps out to greet you dressed in black tux with white shirtfront.

Tescher in his more youthful days. Courtesy of Carmel Country Inn website.

Tescher in his more youthful days. Courtesy of Carmel Country Inn website.

Do be careful pulling a morning Herald from the stack on the breakfast room hearth. Tescher is sometimes found atop the newspapers pondering the  flames. He may give you a look of disgust at such rudeness, but it’s just old age. He’s seen it all.

This little town first gained popularity as an artists’ colony, a Bohemian getaway in the early years of the 20th century. Nowadays only a very successful artist could afford to buy one of the cozy cottages, each bearing a distinctive name such as “Windswept” or “Prince of Tides.” My favorite: “Carmelized.”

Before then it was known for its legacy as one of the Franciscan missions of Father Junípero Serra. You should take a look at the old mission while you’re here, then drive down the coast a ways toward Big Sur to experience the incredible natural beauty.

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And there you have it—a beautiful getaway, whether you drive a few hours (watch out for the speed trap alongside the reservoir between Interstate 5 and Patterson!) or come from farther afield to spend some time in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. I highly recommend it.

In fact, I’d head back today if I could. And this time watch for that darned speed trap.

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Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

 

Posted in European Travel, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

MAX IN FRANCE – a bittersweet tale of bear love, longing and devotion

Max was a troubled bear.

Sure he traveled frequently.  Enjoyed the sights and the companionship of his friends.  But there was more to the bear than met the eye.  His bowtie said it all:  the red-white-blue tricolore of France, a fond but painful reminder of a lost weekend in San Francisco, a coy Air France flight attendant named Maxine from Aix-en-Provence, with her winning smile and alluring French accent.  A brief ursine interlude in the City by the Bay, then she was back in the air, never to be seen by Max again.

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He missed her, but they both had known it to be just one of those quick relationships that could never be more than two star-crossed lovers passing in the star-filled night.  Yet he longed for her smile, her laughter, her quick sense of humor, her soft (synthetic) fur coat.

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And then came the anonymous letter, postmarked from the south of France.  It told of a love-cub, the result of that wondrous weekend a few years back, who had taken off on his own to find his missing father, and then disappeared somewhere in the countryside.

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So Max grabbed some friends and flew across the Atlantic to Marseille, rented a Renault and drove to Aix, and then Arles, and on toward the Dordogne.

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He frequented haunts Maxine had mentioned, and discovered subtle clues along the way, clues which led him deep into the the south of France.

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To medieval castles and charming villages, to riverside haunts and noisy brasseries. Until the trail of clues went dry.

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And then unknown kidnappers caught him:  it had all been an evil plot, a nefarious plan to take this trusting bear hostage for ransom.

Proof of life

Proof of life

Max was held incommunicado in the castle tower at St. Enemie, with little hope of truly finding his son, all the while waiting for his traveling companions to respond with the ransom money.

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They, however, were preoccupied enjoying the food and wine and sights of France, and thought the ransom note merely a prank by the hotel concierge to get a bigger tip.  There is a special place set aside for friends who ignore a friend in need:

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But Max, as enterprising a bear as ever graced the woods, managed his own escape from his bonds, climbed out onto the precipitous battlements, and let himself plummet to the tiled ground below.  Yes, it hurt, but this bear knew to play dead.

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Until some kind soul came along to cover his eyes, and CSI St. Enemie wrote him off for dead.

Once alone, Max made good his escape, first resting up a bit  in Brantome, with a nice bar of French chocolate to give him strength to continue his quest.

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For he knew, having endured his captors cruel taunts, that the story of his missing son was true.  And Max was intent to turn France upside down to find his cub.

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He scoured the villages of the Dordogne, the gardens of the Perigord, the streets of Limoges…

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and then, at a country flea market in Vouvray on the banks of the Loire…wonder of wonders…there sat little Maxim at a folding table, hoping against hope to someday see his father, while busily trying to sell some rather dubious but very French second-hand household items.

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It was a joyous reunion.  Max saw in this little bear the sparkle in the eye, the outrageous Gallic bear nose, and the spotted coat of his lost paramour, Maxine.  And Maxim recognized his father from  photos his mother has shown him so many times before.  Father and son embraced  in delight, and drove on to Paris to celebrate, at long last, their reunion.

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At the end of the stay there was a bittersweet parting. Max knew he must return to his native California where he spent his workdays showing off for tourists in Yosemite Park.

But he and his son both knew they would always have Paris.

And Maxim held in his heart the unspoken conviction that, someday, he might bring his parents back together for a teddy bear picnic in the Southern French woods.

Maybe you might join them?

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Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in Animal stories, European Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

MY CAREER IN THE MILITARY: PART FIVE: No Way to Start the Day

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(Dear Reader – You may wish to read parts 1-4  in the Archives to the right before jumping into this story.)

So there I was, having avoided military service in some clammy tent in Vietnam, or—worse still—as a forward observer in the jungle, as had been my expectation. Instead I found myself sitting pretty in pretty Germany, having just wrangled  a position as an “enlisted command interpreter” to an Army general, and well on my way to having my Military Occupational Specialty changed to some administrative MOS designation. I wasn’t picky, I’d take whatever they offered.

So what did I do on my first day on the job?  Why, I spent the day getting soused, of course.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Well, I guess I owe you an explanation, so here’s how it happened:

As those of you who have followed this military memoir know, I was a bit naïve about how the military works. But there was one thing I had learned and learned well, when an officer tells an enlisted man “jump,” you had better jump, or you’ll end up doing laps on your belly in the sawdust pit till your digestive system thinks you’ve switched to an all-cellulose diet.

So who comes knocking on my barracks door, bright and early on my first day of official duty in Germany, but a captain and a lieutenant, the very two who had been instrumental in my rise up the command ladder just twenty-four hours before.

“A group of us are off on a bus tour of breweries,” said the captain, “and we thought your German-speaking talents might be of use. How quickly can you be ready?”

Well, elated as I was to be back in Germany, and since these kind officers were offering, I quickly got out of there and we headed across the beautiful Swabian countryside to a nice brewery, where we feasted on bratwurst and bread rolls, washing it all down with huge mugs of beer. And then we headed out to a second brewery, where we were offered schnapps. And then beer. And then schnapps. Etc. Etc.

I know it sounds even more naïve, but I was so pleased with my new job and the pleasant camaraderie with junior officers  that I didn’t give a moment’s notice to the fact that—believe it or not—beer and schnapps both contain alcohol. Lots of alcohol. And as a modest drinker at best, my system didn’t register the copious amount I had consumed until I suddenly felt ill. Very, very ill.

Now hereafter the picture gets a bit fuzzy. I remember sitting for an extended period in a men’s room stall being berated by Germans who wanted to use the facility and kept pounding on the door. I remember a helpful albeit equally drunk lieutenant leading me up and down outside the brewery on the icy pavement, trying to sober me up a bit, when all I wanted to do was croak. I remember coming to consciousness sitting at the bar of an officers’ club (where I had no right to be due to my lack of rank), shoving away the beer glass the bartender had just placed before me. And something about seeking a safe hiding place for my wallet once I was back in the barracks, because I remembered hearing earlier from someone that drunken soldiers often had their wallets lifted.

Morning dawned on a terrific, throbbing headache.

Nausea.

Clammy sweat drenching every inch of my body.

Blood-shot eyes.

And the certainty that I never again wanted to let such a thing happen to me. I dragged my way to the headquarters building to report for the day’s duties. And was immediately summoned to the office of the Chief of Staff.

“Well, O’Bryon? What the hell happened to you? You were supposed to report to the general twenty-four hours ago.” A certain tone of disapproval worked its way through the haze which enveloped my every thought and the pain which accompanied every movement of my head and body.

“And you look like ****,” he added unnecessarily.

“Well, sir, I went on the brewery tour,” I announced with appropriate gravity.

Believe it or not, he hadn’t been aware of any tour. Nor had anyone authorized my participation. But he was savvy enough to call in one of the captains, and it turned out that those fine young officers had decided to have a bit of fun at the new “enlisted interpreter’s” expense.

And luckily the general had been an enlisted man once, as well. So my job was saved. I was sent back to the barracks to sleep it off. And I reported to work the next morning. Sober. And a little less naïve. And later I even became friends with a couple of those young officers.

My wallet was gone, so I had to have my folks wire me cash till next payday. And two months later, when moving from the barracks into a private apartment off-caserne, I did find my missing wallet, hidden in the toe of a shoe. I may have been soused, but sometimes even in a drunken haze a clever plan works.

Copyright 2014 Patrick W. O’Bryon

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CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MAN: Stand Back If You See Me Coming Your Way

Some people have been known to suggest that I am a bit clumsy. I believe the word “klutz” has been used on more than one occasion. As for me, I have a different take on this: I tend to move at twice the normal rate of speed through a somewhat sluggish environment.

Is it my fault that material objects fail to get out of my way in time?

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An example: power tools are rarely my friends. Sure, I am lucky enough to have all my digits, but there’s still time to alter that state of affairs. It’s not that I am inept in handling these tools. It’s more that I rush forward in the expectation that the power tool can catch up.

And it’s not just power tools—hand tools can also be a challenge. Years ago—when I was teaching at New College of the University of South Florida in Sarasota and not yet a vegetarian—my wife and I were about to take off for Tampa/St Pete and I hovered over the kitchen sink with steak knife in hand, slicing off bits of meat from a leftover rib.
And, as it turned out, from my index finger.

Noting the copious red blood cells that pour forth when the first half inch or so of your finger is hanging by a thread of flesh, I grabbed for a dishtowel, shouted to Dani to get the car keys, and we raced over to the campus infirmary.

Now blood has never bothered me that much, although I prefer it inside my veins rather than splattering haphazardly about. And I could sense that this time I had done a pretty good job of releasing the red stuff, judging by the soaked kitchen towel. So when we approached the door to the clinic leaving a trail of droplets, I suspected that the doctor or nurse would be ready with sutures to stanch the flow.

I pushed open the door and we entered…to find the place empty. Not a soul in sight. Abandoned. And then I remembered hearing something about no weekend staffing. It was apparent that the last one to leave the night before had forgotten to lock the front door.
But since we were there, and I was now leaving bright blood everywhere I ran, we sought out bandages and tape and began emergency binding of the wound before heading off to find a local hospital.

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What a mess we left behind—flooring splattered with blood, smeared pools on the Formica countertop, hastily-unwrapped bandages and gauze, soaked towel! But no time to waste cleaning up, and so we locked the front door behind us and off we went to the hospital, where a doctor did manage to save my fingertip. Although it took over a year before feeling returned to that digit.

(I do sometimes wonder what the college nurse thought the next day when he or she opened up the infirmary and saw the signs of carnage we had left throughout the clinic.)

Now, that was a hand tool, a simple knife. Imagine how much damage I can do with a power drill. More than once I have stabilized a screw with one hand while trying to imbed it in a piece of wood from some Petrified Forest, only to have the drill bit slip and imbed itself in my fingers. (I know, I know…drill a pilot hole first, but who has time for that nonsense. And in truth, the middle digit on my left hand is current bearing a Band-aid to cover such a self-inflicted wound.) And there have been a few close calls with a table saw (and rotary saw and saber saw—you get the picture).

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Consider the time I slipped off a damp log while holding a running chainsaw. Luckily, the saw flew off harmlessly in one direction, and I in the other, but I did limp around for weeks from the deep indentation in my shin bone, which still bears a nice scar from the meeting of tree stump and flesh.

So keep this in mind should you see me coming with a power tool or other implement in hand: this guy is traveling at a speed which doesn’t allow for a margin of error, and stand back.

Just ask my parents-in-law, who are tempted to put away their good china and glassware every time I’m invited over for dinner.
And please don’t call me a klutz. I just move too quickly for anyone’s good.

(By the way, the photos are actually of drippings from overripe grapes, overhanging  the lovely private terrace of a room at Villa Gabrisa in Positano, Italy. Here’s the rest of the view…)

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Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CORRIDOR OF DARKNESS WINS TOP AWARDS FOR QUALITY FICTION!

Two highly-respected professional reviewing groups dedicated to acknowledging quality independent fiction have recognized my debut espionage thriller Corridor of Darkness: A Novel of Nazi Germany with their top awards.

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Awesome Indies (AIA) gives the novel its gold Seal of Excellence, with one of their three reviewers calling it a “first-rate, expertly crafted thriller,” and another stating: “When the writing is powerful and immediate and characters as real and believable as these ones are, our compassion is aroused and our heart opens.”

Compulsion Reads endorses the novel with the following praise: “Corridor of Darkness is a compelling and well-researched read…a grand adventure, set in Germany’s darkest hours.”

The novel is currently available as an ebook for either Kindle or iPad (or download a reading tool for your computer if you don’t have a Kindle) at http://www.amazon.com/books/, enter Corridor of Darkness.

If you prefer a trade paperback, it is currently available at a 25% discount by visiting http://www.createspace.com/4504054, then enter the discount code V8S3FA76 at checkout.

For multiple copies use the amazon.com site and save on shipping.

Thanks to all of you for your support, and don’t forget to post a review to Amazon if you haven’t yet! I sincerely appreciate it.

And remember to support http://www.fatkittycity.org during the holidays! The animal sanctuary was thrilled with your generous support through your donations at the book launch party.

Posted in Historical Thriller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

MY CAREER IN THE MILITARY: PART FOUR: Patience as its Own Reward

(For those of you who haven’t been following stories of my short-term military career in the 70’s, you may want to read the earlier postings to bring you up-to-date before tackling this one.)

Now I’m sitting pretty with orders to Germany along with the rest of my graduating class at Ft Sill. Only we still have a couple of items to handle. One, unless I can find a way to get my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) changed from Fire Direction Control (FDC…the military does love its acronyms), I’m going to be spending my European military time in a tent somewhere in a winter-swept field near the Iron Curtain and East Germany, telling the artillery where to fire their practice rounds. And then I’m likely off to Vietnam anyway.

So I start asking around, starting with  career soldiers who have already been rotated into Germany. Question One: How do I get my MOS changed? And Question Two: When do I have to do it? And they give me the clues to success.

Böblingen, near Stuttgart. An old Wehrmacht caserne, home to the transfer station for troops rotating into Germany.

3:37 a.m.

I have been underway for hours, the flight from the East Coast delayed, then an overheated bus full of exhausted soldiers, and now a middle-of-the-night garishly-lit receiving room filled with dozing troops awaiting their assignments to outlying locations. The fluorescents are humming. And so am I, having consumed so much caffeine my ears are vibrating, but I must…stay…awake. For I have been told that my one chance for salvation lies before me in the shape of a somewhat rumpled sergeant who has just stepped to the front of the room with a clipboard in hand.

“If any of you wants a change of MOS, raise your hand.” His voice is a mumble, practically incoherent, but I have been alerted to this moment and my hand shoots up before the final words leave his mouth.

“Get up here, soldier,” he orders. I am the only one who heard, the only one who comes forward.

“What’s your problem?”

“No problem, sergeant, it’s just that I’ve lived here in Germany and speak the language, so I thought the Army might have a better use for me, as long as I’m here again.”

“You talk kraut?” Distrust in his words.

“I do.”

He lets out an exaggerated sigh, wishing for all his worth I had kept my mouth shut and he was heading back home and to bed with his long-suffering wife. “Wait here,” he says. And then dismisses the rest of the room. It is eerily quiet; only the overhead fixtures drone their obnoxious hum.

I get another paper cup of stale coffee. And wait. And wait.

A red-eyed lieutenant enters the room. “You O’Bryon?” As if there were anyone else in the now-empty room.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you think you speak German?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you don’t like your MOS, the one the Army in its wisdom assigned to you?”

“Not so much, sir, in that I could be more valuable using my language skills.”

“Wait here,” he says.

I wait. And wait.

6:28 a.m. A captain walks into the room. “You O’Bryon, soldier?”

I so want to point out the obvious, but I bite my tongue, which tastes of stale coffee: “Yes, sir,” I mumble.

“Where’d you learn German?” he asks. I tell him I was in graduate school here when drafted.

“Wait here.”

By noon I have done a heap of waiting. I’ve been sent to see a major, command Chief of Staff, I gather from the nameplate on the door. By 14:00 hours I am sitting in the office of a lieutenant colonel. We chat about living in Germany. He’s chatting. I’m trying my damnedest to keep my eyes open and at least sound coherent. I think I’m succeeding. A colonel strolls in, looks me up and down, nods to the lieutenant colonel, and I am directed across the hall, where a charming civilian secretary gives me a smile and directs me to a chair. “Please wait,” she says. And returns to her paperwork.

A clock ticks inexorably on the facing wall. From time to time the girl gives me a slight smile. “Patience,” her lips mouth. As if I have a choice.

Her buzzer rings, she picks up, her eyes catch mine, and she sets down the receiver and directs me into the general’s office.

He’s very, well, generally. Tall. Good posture. Spiffy uniform with lots of nice service medals.

“You O’Bryon?” he asks. AARRGGHHH, I think, but say out loud: “Yes, sir!”

And then he starts to talk. And talk. And talk. At one point he asks me what else I can do besides speak German, and I tell him I also speak French.

“Great,” he says, because we deal a lot with the French as well as the Germans. Fought the tough ones in the war, the others didn’t have the stomach to fight. Personally, don’t care much for either one, but it’s what we do.”

I’m beginning to think I’m in, that all that coffee and all that waiting has paid off.

The general drones on, I’m in euphoria, when suddenly I realized I’ve been dismissed, the girl’s at the door to lead me back to the lieutenant colonel’s office, where I’m told to wait in the foyer. I wait. And wait. I doze off briefly.

And then the wondrous news. The lieutenant colonel calls me in. “O’Bryon,” he says, “you’re to be the general’s interpreter, sort of an enlisted aide. He likes you. You’ll go to official functions with him. If you do well, there’ll be more assignments. Can’t say for sure what for now, being as how there’s no such position as an enlisted aide. Meanwhile, you’ll work here in admin. And we’ll work on getting that MOS changed so you don’t get rotated out of here just when we’re getting used to you.” He smiles. Nice guy.

New guy on the job in Germany

New guy on the job in Germany

Now, I still didn’t know much about the Army. Hell, I came to boot camp not knowing that soldiers got paid. I thought the Army provided food and lodging and that was it. Imagine my surprise and delight when that first payday was announced. $300!

And I sure as hell knew nothing about what was expected of me as a general’s interpreter. But for the moment, at least, I was in, I was staying in Germany (even if temporarily) and it was time to celebrate.

I dragged myself to the assigned barracks. I fell on a bunk and crashed.

Plenty of time to celebrate the next day, a celebration which almost cost me my new job and sent me back to FDC and some cold tent on the edge of the Iron Curtain.

But more about that later.

Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in European Travel, Memoir, Travel Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

CONFESSIONS OF A MONTANA BACK-TO-THE-LANDER: The Bear Facts

All right, ‘fess up. Haven’t you ever wanted to shuck it all and take off for parts unknown, make a grand break from everyday frustrations? So how’s this for a suggestion? Pack up some minimal belongings along with family pets, hitch up an over-stuffed travel trailer to your inadequately-powered car, and head to the backwoods of Montana.

In this day and age, when people complain about mortgage interest rates climbing above 4%, just imagine almost thirty-five years ago when rates were knocking on the 19% door, and very few people were answering. At that time I was brokering the sale of large apartment complexes to investor groups. Every deal took months to negotiate and further months to complete inspections. And then, three times out of four, just before signing the closing papers the investors took a close look at the bottom line of the real estate investment, compared it to, say, a CD rate of 15%, and decided to pull the plug on the whole deal.

So early one October day, after three very large (and potentially profitable) transactions fell to ruins, we packed up Tanya the German shepherd and Rasputin and Sage, our two cats, and took off for a sabbatical to await the return of sanity in the financial markets (Still waiting, but that’s a different story.) Back to the land, here we came.

As a boy I had visited Northwestern Montana with my family, and remembered the beautiful Flathead Valley, the broad expanse of Flathead Lake, the peaks of the Rockies surging upward from the valley floor without a second thought of foothills, the splendors of Glacier Park, the grizzly bears. As we passed through Oregon we stopped to visit one of my sisters, and she and her husband joined our caravan with a truck and trailer of their own. They, too, were game to challenge the great outdoors.

We made it to the high country just as the first flakes of snow fell. And we were happy to accept the gracious invitation of some newly-met folks who offered the winter use of two small houses on five acres, just outside Whitefish, a town of perhaps 2000 residents and perhaps half that many bars. Or so it seemed.

We took readily to cross-country skiing, and by late winter discovered acreage of our own to buy about ten miles north of Whitefish, then a mile or two in on gravel road, then another mile on our own path to the potential building sites for a couple of log homes.  Twenty great acres backing up to BLM and Forest Service land, and six or seven lakes within a 15-minute walk or ski. If any of you are daring foolish clever ingenious enough to tackle hunting for land during a Montana “spring,” just know that those wonderful little hills (seemingly so great for cross-country skiing) may well prove to be loggers’ slash piles once the snows melt away, say in April or May. Or June.

So as the snow turned to slush and then to mud, we set to work on a double project: burning huge wood-trash piles after salvaging any usable logs, and felling others to build log cabins. We sold our passenger car and picked up an old Bronco II 4×4, suitable for dragging downed trees out of the woods. Since our forest held many beetle-killed larch trees whose limited circumference didn’t lend itself to traditional log cabin construction, we chose a post-and-beam style which we then covered in rough-hewn planking.

Hey, no laughing at the hair...this was almost 35 years ago

Hey, no laughing at the hair…this was almost 35 years ago

The glacial moraine “soil” was so dense with rock that a traditional septic system seemed impossible without great expense, so we used an outdoor privy during that long construction summer. And because the land was so remote—our only visitors the daily bears—I opted to build our outhouse with windows on all sides so that the user could enjoy the views. Of course, this provided the occasional passing bruin with the opportunity to stop, sit down, and patiently observe a human in a glass cage. I presume constipation was never a problem for those guests unfamiliar with the four-legged residents of our land.

Once the cabin had attained some semblance of shelter, I set to work creating the world’s grandest composting toilet. The user reached its summit by ascending a staircase to a platform fit for a king (see photo). In winter the heated air from the woodstove would circulate through the main compartment of the composter to dry out the contents. In summer a home-fabricated solar panel would do the trick. And “flushing” consisted of the occasional turn of a handle protruding from the side which would rotate a metal mesh drum inside.  And once a year you had to shovel out the compost through a door opening to the backside of the cabin. And, no, in case you are wondering, you don’t want to recreate this yourself.

Regal dedication ceremony of the imperial composting throne

Regal dedication ceremony of the imperial composting throne

Now, we’ve always been lovers of animals, wild and domesticated. So the fact that we shared our land with a number of black bears (and one occasional honey-colored grizzly) was never a problem. The bears got to know us quickly, and when we came up a trail and met one along the way, the animal would amble up about twenty feet or so, sit down, and patiently watch its humans parade past. Then the bear would return to the path and resume its journey. We soon knew all the local bears by sight, so any newcomer was an event.

Once my wife came to tell me that a new bear had just wandered past our home. I grabbed  the binoculars and ran for the front porch. Dani, never one to encourage my bear observations unattended, joined me in slinking up the hill to gain a clear vantage point above the bear’s path.  Step by step we approached the spot where we were sure to spot the bruin through the trees on the trail below. The binoculars were glued to my eyes when Dani’s fingers tapped me lightly on the shoulder, and she whispered: “Turn…around… slowly.” And there a few strides off to our right sat the new bear, calmly assessing the strange behavior of two upright mammals in the woods.

We did take special care in berry season, when it was all too easy to come upon a bear and surprise her, and we gave a wide berth to mama bears with cubs. One memorable sight: Mama sitting honey-bear style in the berry shrubs, raking her long claws through the foliage and stuffing her mouth, while twin cubs chased circles around her and rolled down the slope in a furry ball.

Photo by takepart.com

Photo by takepart.com

We had no electricity other than a 12-volt battery system which was charged up occasionally when a generator filled our well’s holding tank, so candles were often the light source in the early morning. Dani was still in bed and I was in our bathtub/shower, which in that early stage of construction was still in the mudroom/foyer of the cabin. I noticed the light from the living room candle was especially bright as it came through the shower curtain, so I looked around the edge to find one wall of our cabin engulfed in flame.

Sage the cat had been hiding behind the drapery, and had dragged it into the flame of the candle. Jumping from the tub I raced across the room, grabbed the flaming material from in front of the window, and undertook a furious stomping dance atop it, just as Dani emerged from the bedroom to see what the fuss was all about: her husband, stark naked, dripping wet, and dancing like crazy on a flaming curtain. Obviously, I had gone mad, since she knew I had never been much of a dancer.

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Anyway, you get the picture. Back-to-the-land Montanans.

The snick-snick of cross-country skis at midnight under a full moon, when the temperature drops well below zero, ice crystals are precipitating out the air, turning the world to a glistening wonderland, and a snowshoe hare hops across your path.

Gathering morel mushrooms at dusk, only to feel yourself observed by two large moose just paces away, ankle-deep in a snow-melt pool, calmly watching your progress.

Driving up the Going-to-the-Sun highway deep into Glacier Park, then putting on the skis and completing the trek up toward the divide, before gliding back down again, the cold wind on your face.

Lying under a feather comforter, a heated soapstone bed-warmer at your toes, the window at your heads wide open to the freezing night air, as a timber wolf bays at the full moon just thirty feet from your cabin, and Tanya the German shepherd cowers at your feet, wanting nothing to do with her distant cousin’s plaintive call.

Unforgettable. Wondrous. Worth every moment cleaning out that damned composting toilet.

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Copyright 2013 Patrick W. O’Bryon

Posted in Animal stories, Memoir, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments