Friday, June 28, 2013

Collateral Damage - Reviews

Once upon a time, there were almost two dozen reviews, all four and five stars, posted on the Southern Investigation review page - now many are gone - stripped by a ruthless algorithm.  They became collateral damage.

Amazon, concerned that many book reviews weren't the "real deal," built a algorithm to purge those that didn't meet their guidelines.  Thousands, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of reviews were stripped away - no author was excluded from the scrutiny of the algorithm.

After the bombing, it was discovered that many, in fact, way more than many of the reviews were, in fact, legitimate, honest reviews and should have never been removed.  They were collateral damage.  However, there's no going back on an algorithm that has run.

I didn't complain because, at the time, the action had no direct impact that I could see.  Now, however, I'm very close to publishing the second in the series, Southern Investigation - Tucson, and I want to run some paid advertisements for Southern Investigation to generate interest for the new release - unfortunately, the platforms I've chosen to run the ads have rejected my ads because I do not have the required number of reviews.  Explaining that I did have them and Amazon inadvertently stripped them away doesn't carry any weight.

So, if yours was one of the reviews that was stripped away (you can check here) I'd sure appreciate it if you'd re-post your review.  If you aren't in that category but are curious about Southern Investigation - here's the prologue for Southern Investigation - Tucson.  It will give you a good feel for Southern Investigation.  Thanks and enjoy.


Prologue
David and I met in 1969 on the way to our first tour of duty in Vietnam. We spent almost three years in Vietnam, and then we were "wounded out", together. I was released from the hospital a few months after David. The day after I got home, I joined him, and his lifelong friend, Shirley Jacobson, in Clinton, Alabama. Shirley, the widow of a Vietnam veteran, and David had just started a lawn care business. They called it Southern Lawn Care.
They invited me to join them, but I explained that I didn't have a lawn mower and added that I didn't want one. Without hesitation, David said, "Okay, then we'll just do something else."
Shirley said, "I don't know why, but I believe that it's important that we stay together." In truth, Shirley knew why it was important for us to stay together and so did David and I. Vietnam created a break between those who served there and those who lost loved ones there and the rest of the world. Everyone was on one side of the break or the other. Those on the Vietnam side of the chasm understood what war was about and didn't talk about it. Those on the other side didn't understand and talked about it incessantly, usually beginning their comments with, "I know exactly how you feel." Normally we just nodded at that remark and ended the conversation as quickly as possible. Then there was an extreme case that became a constant reminder to me and my partners of the gulf between veterans and non-veterans.
We were having lunch at Betty's restaurant when a preacher, totally unknown to us, joined us and immediately launched into a campaign to save our souls. Without introduction, he said, "I want you to know that I know you." He nodded toward David, Robert, and me, as he continued. "You are veterans of the war in Vietnam." He paused, looked at Shirley, and said, "And I know you lost your husband there."
He stopped speaking, looked gravely at each of us, and then said, "I'm not a Vietnam veteran, but I know just how you feel." He paused for effect, then said, "I was once addicted to pornography."
For two or three seconds nothing happened, and then David totally lost it. Between peals of laughter, he looked at Shirley and managed to say, "Did that son of bitch say what I think he said?"
Shirley, looking straight at the preacher, raised her voice to a level that Betty later said could be heard in the kitchen. "Yep, he said being a Vietnam veteran is like jerking off."
I thought the preacher was going to have a stroke or a heart attack. He sprang, and I mean sprang, to his feet. His chair tipped over and slammed into the floor. Everyone in the dining room was staring at him. I guess they had never seen a speechless Baptist minister before.
At that point, we totally lost it and had a laughing fit that brought tears to all of our eyes. The preacher didn't see any of that because he was long gone when we got to that part.
It was shortly after that episode that Betty gave us our own table in the small private dining room in the back of the restaurant. On the wall beside our table is a bronze plaque that reads, reserved for Southern Investigation.
When Betty escorted us to the table the first time, David read the plaque, looked at her, and in mock seriousness said, "This is because of our addiction to pornography, isn't it."
Betty, who is almost as funny as David, replied just as seriously, "That's it, David, and I don't want the rest of my customers exposed to that."
Then we all lost it.
********
We brainstormed for a couple of days before we returned to Shirley's first suggestion, "Let's be private detectives." It wasn't an unfounded suggestion. Immediately prior to partnering with David in Southern Lawn Care, Shirley had worked for three years for a local attorney. She knew that lawyers, insurance companies, and other businesses depended on private investigators.
We decided to give it a shot, and Southern Investigation was formed. That happened over ten years ago. Since then, we've built a solid business. For the most part, our clients are attorneys, insurance companies, medium-sized corporations and privately owned businesses. Occasionally we work for individuals, but only in special cases that do not include divorce or personal conflict issues.
Many of our clients have offices in Atlanta, a hundred and forty miles from Clinton. Every couple of weeks we go there to present reports or testify in court on their behalf. On April 1, 1985, we were returning to Clinton from a trip to Atlanta, when we stopped for gas, coffee, and a rest stop, at the Quick Stop, in Menlo, Georgia.
David went inside while I fueled my Jeep. When I finished, I moved the Jeep to the side of the store and parked it under the big oak tree that shades half the building. As I entered, I noted that we were the only customers in the store. I waved at Maggie Kirkwood, the owner and manager, and headed toward the coffee pot at the back of the store. A few minutes later, three men came in. As they came through the door, they pulled guns, and one of them shouted at Maggie, "Give me all the money and you might live through this."
I ducked low behind a shelf that was stacked high with merchandise. David was beside me in seconds. With whispers and sign language, we quickly devised a plan and began moving down separate aisles toward the front of the store. To make a long story short, we stopped the holdup. Three men died, and David was seriously wounded. The nearest ambulance service is in Summerville, Georgia, almost thirty miles away. I looked at David and knew he didn't have the time for that. I considered other possibilities and elected to take him to Clinton, less than twenty-five miles north of Menlo.
Maggie called the sheriff. When I was sure the store was secure, I helped David to the Jeep, strapped him in the passenger seat, and headed north. On the top of Lookout Mountain, about halfway to Clinton, I admitted to myself that we might not make it in time. David was losing a lot of blood and passing in and out of consciousness. There aren't words to describe how I felt knowing that I might fail the man who had saved my life more times than I could count. At that moment, a call came over the CB radio triggering my first and so far my only Vietnam flashback.
"Viper One, this is Blackjack, it looks like you could use a dust-off."
Without thinking the call was coming through my CB, which had been squelched to the point that I hadn't heard a single call on it all day, or that a dust-off ship wouldn't be transmitting on a CB channel, I picked up the transmitter and said, "That's affirmative, Blackjack."
Blackjack instructed me to pull over. I did, and immediately a helicopter landed in the middle of the deserted highway while a second one hovered over it, lighting up the area. In seconds, an army nurse and a medic had David strapped to a litter with a plasma drip running in each arm. I left the Jeep on the side of the highway and flew with them to the Clinton Medical Center. On the way, I saw the tail number of the second ship and recognized it as the one that had been shot down on Christmas Day, 1968, in South Vietnam.
********
On Christmas Day, 1968, fifteen men and one woman disappeared in South Vietnam. The sixteen were the crew members of two helicopters, a long-range recon patrol, and an army nurse. They remained missing for almost eighteen years.
First, a company of North Vietnamese Regulars captured them as the two helicopter crews, with Captain Julie Wilson, attempted an emergency extraction of the LURPS. The NVA, from Hanoi, had one objective, capturing Americans and taking them back to Hanoi. Their operation, initiated in retaliation for a recent American operation that captured a number of high-ranking Viet Cong officers, was executed flawlessly. However, the day after capturing the Americans, the NVA themselves were ambushed and killed, to a man, by Phan Van Khai, the most powerful warlord in South Vietnam. Phan then marched the prisoners south, to Rach Tau, a hamlet in Ca Mau, the southernmost province of South Vietnam.
Phan treated the prisoners decently, though they were always under guard. He set Julie up as the village doctor, building a clinic and insuring that she had the supplies and equipment that she needed to run it. Early in their captivity, Ken Davis, the LURP medic, tried to escape. His Achilles tendon was severed to dissuade future escape attempts. Besides hobbling the medic, Phan told the prisoners that should one of them try to escape again, one of them, not the one who attempted to escape, would be killed.
That night, Colonel Hank Jemison, the highest-ranking prisoner, told the group that he understood that they had all taken an oath to try to escape if they were captured by the enemy, and he wouldn't order them to do otherwise. However, he added, "We aren't in the hands of an enemy of the United States. We have been captured by a warlord that I believe the U.S. Army has no knowledge of. I'm sure that all attempts to rescue us were focused north of the landing zone where we were captured, and I'm equally sure that all efforts to find us have ceased." He paused, looked long at each of his fellow prisoners, and then added, "Phan has no concept of the Geneva Convention, and I'm convinced that should one or more of us attempt another escape, he will, without hesitation, keep his word."
The Colonel paused again before continuing in a softer tone, "We could all be dead. We aren't. I suggest that we stay alive and make the best of it. We have nothing to gain by antagonizing Phan."
The Colonel stopped talking. There wasn't a sound in the long-house that was their home when they weren't working. Then Lieutenant Green, the commanding officer of the LURPS said, "I concur, sir." Within seconds, everyone in the group agreed.
********
Freedom was always in their thoughts, but there were no more escape attempts. Their life became one of routine and work. Julie, assisted by Ken Davis, ran the clinic. The others worked the fields and rice paddies and cared for the livestock alongside the villagers. They became proficient in the language and melded into the lifestyle of the hamlet.
Every night, in their long-house, they took turns sharing their memories of home, childhood, and their lives before the army. Then, on Christmas Day, 1983, fifteen years after their capture, an amazing thing happened. Julie was telling the group about Christmas in Yancy, North Carolina, when, with no warning, they were flying over Yancy, all of them, in the two, long ago destroyed Hueys.
Their first flight didn't last long, maybe thirty seconds, when Julie exclaimed, "There's my house. See the Christmas tree out front…" Before she finished the sentence they were back in the long-house in Rach Tau. Julie's first thought was that she had experienced a hallucination. That notion vanished when Sergeant Wilford Beam, the LURP NCO in Charge, looked at her, grinned, and said, "Julie, that's sure a nice Christmas tree."
The following night, they "flew" again. This time they were over Yancy and the surrounding countryside for five minutes. The next few weeks were a time of exploring and refining their flying experience. Their first thought was to use their new skill to escape. Immediately they realized that their "flying" was, in fact, an experience of being in two places at the same time, and it wasn't a vehicle for their escape since part of them remained in captivity as they flew. On the heels of that realization, they discovered they could only fly in the United States and then only in areas that were familiar to at least one of them.
Later, they found that they could "fly" any time the group focused on flying – even when they were working. When they were flying, their other self continued working, giving no sign that anything unusual was happening. Sergeant Will Tall Tree, the Colonel's crew chief and a lifelong student of religion and esoteric teachings, told The Band there were many well-documented cases of sages and groups of esoteric teachers appearing in two places at the same time.
Will said he believed they had unconsciously followed the route of the sages by giving up their individual egos and melding into a group consciousness. Will had no other explanation; however, the Colonel pointed out they had taken the way of the sages to a new level by adding two helicopters.
Soon after they started flying, the group discovered their attraction to Vietnam veterans who were in trouble, and there were quite a few of them. On their third flight over the Yancy area, they saw a tractor-trailer slide off an icy mountain road, crash through a guardrail, and plunge into a ravine. They didn't hesitate. In minutes, they removed the driver from the truck, raised him to the roadway, loaded him on one of the choppers and headed for the nearest hospital. On the short flight, the driver told Sergeant Beam he had been with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He added that when he heard the choppers, he knew he was going to be okay.
Over the next two years, The Band, as they called themselves, rescued many Vietnam veterans. That's how my partner, David Hendricks, and I met them.
A couple of months later, Dan Wheeler, a north Georgia sheriff, Kirk Robbins of the DEA, Shirley, David, David's dog, Mojo, our new partner, Robert Hightower, and I were investigating a suspected illegal drug sale on Lookout Mountain, near Clinton. For the second time, Blackjack contacted us on the Jeep's CB radio. This time there was no flashback, I knew who it was.
"Southern Investigation, Blackjack One, you are walking into a trap."
Thanks to The Band's intervention, we were saved, and a number of people went to jail. The following day, at our invitation, The Band returned for a meeting with Shirley, David, Robert, Sheriff Wheeler and me. At that meeting, we determined that we would do whatever it took to get The Band out of Vietnam.
*************
A series of planning meetings followed that one. Six weeks later, Southern Investigation, with the assistance of Sheriff Dan Wheeler, Gerald Wells, Kenny Thompson, and Kirk Robbins of the DEA, and President Ronald Reagan, we did exactly that.
On their return to the United States, each member of The Band was promoted one pay grade, retroactive to Christmas Day, 1968. Each of them received eighteen years of back pay, plus interest. The North Carolina legislature passed a special bill that allowed Julie Wilson to sit for the North Carolina general practitioner medical licensing examination, which she passed with a perfect score. Ken Davis was given full credit for his experience and military medical training and allowed to take the North Carolina registered nurse examination. He scored ninety-eight, and Julie never lets him forget the difference in their test scores.
The Band, to a person, elected to remain together. The Small Business Administration gave their business loan applications priority, and two weeks after their return to the United States, their three companies were funded. They are, Yancy Medical, in Yancy, North Carolina: partners Julie Wilson and Ken Davis. San Diego Choppers, a company that buys, sells, and maintains helicopters, located on a small private airfield just south of downtown San Diego. The partners are Hank Jemison, James Conley, Ted Ferguson, Louie Harkin, Daniel Hatfield, Will Tall Tree, Clinton Tibbets, and Michael Walker. The third company, Tucson Salvage, is a commercial garage and wrecker service located just off Interstate 10, a half mile east of the junction with Interstate 19. Its partners are David Green, Paul Bates, George Belanger, Michael Dampier, Roberto (Juan) Ramirez, and Wilford Beam. Sergeant Beam, the LURP’s senior NCO, was killed in an accident during The Band's captivity. His share of the partnership dividends are paid into a trust fund established for his niece and nephew.
It's been two years since The Band returned to the United States. Before they left Washington, D.C., for their new homes, they made Shirley, David, Robert, Mojo, and me honorary members of The Band. David was quick to point out that we are the "non-flying" members. We get together at least twice a year. One of the gatherings is held at Christmas in Yancy, North Carolina, the second either in San Diego, Tucson, or Clinton, Alabama.
With that short version of our history, the following story, Southern Investigation – Tucson, will make more sense than it would otherwise.

Bill Simmons, Southern Investigation, Clinton, Alabama