I took my weapon in hand, and a disembodied voice described the situation waiting for me: “You and your partner responded to a domestic call. Thinking the situation resolved, you left the premises, only to be called back to the scene by neighbors.”
The scenario unspooling before me seemed innocent enough — a tree-lined street, white houses with wide front porches. I could hear birds singing as my partner and I exited our police cruiser and made our way up the driveway. Everything seemed quiet, but I knew better — we’d been called back for a reason.
Heart pounding, I gripped my Glock a little tighter. I was locked and loaded, but kept the weapon in low ready, my finger off the trigger, until I developed a better idea of what — and who— we were dealing with.
Suddenly, the screen door slammed open, and a bleeding and disheveled man lurched out, collapsing on the grass. His eyes were wild. “She stabbed me!” he yelled. “You’ve got to do something!”
No time to contemplate. My partner and I took the stairs two at a time, bursting into the living room, only to be confronted with that most dangerous of creatures — a switchblade-wielding Desperate Housewife with blood on her hands and murder on her mind.
If this sounds like the beginning of a piece of crime fiction, you’re right. But this slice of drama isn’t the first scene of a novel — it’s a scenario designed for the Firearms Training Simulator, also known as FATS. The Glock in my hand isn’t real either — it’s loaded with air instead of bullets — but at that moment, face to face in a darkened room with a possible killer, it sure felt real. As did the adrenalin surging through my system, kicking me into flight-or-fight mode. For those few seconds, I was a cop. And cops don’t ever have that first option.
I participated in this particular FATS session at Lee Lofland’s Writer’s Police Academy, a weekend of intensive hands-on trainings, seminars and workshops, all designed to give writers a taste of what it really takes to be a law enforcement officer, firefighter, EMT or crime scene tech (find out more about the 2012 WPA here ).
There are classes on forensic identification and undercover work, workshops that take you into deserted condominiums on a SWAT team building search and into the gym for self-defense techniques. You can get up close and personal with bomb robots and sniper gear and the Jaws of Life. You can even ride in an ambulance or investigate a mock shallow grave crime scene. All in one weekend.
I always come away from the WPA with a tote bag full of research and a head full of story ideas. But even more importantly, I regain a sense of renewed gratitude and appreciation for these particular American heroes. Generous and smart, determined and brave, they show up for us on the worst days of our lives. And for that, we owe them our sincerest and heartiest thanks.
So thank you all, very much, from the bottom of my fiction-writing heart. I’m thrilled to know that good guys really do exist.
* * * * * *
Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Lowcountry. Her current novel, Darker Than Any Shadow, is the follow-up to last year’s The Dangerous Edge of Things. Set in contemporary Atlanta, the series features gun-shop owner Tai Randolph and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. Visit www.tinawhittle.com to learn more.