It Blows Up Real Good

I’ve read all of Donald J. Bingle’s novels, and a great many of his short stories. He keeps getting better … and the explosions and threats get bigger.

Wet Work grabbed me from the first page. Contemporary, and exciting. And Dick Thornby intrigues me. I know a lot about Don, we’ve been friends for a couple of decades. But Dick? I’d like to get to know him a little better. So he obliged me and agreed to a Q&A.

You’re an Everyman, the good neighbor, the father, the husband with a sometimes-rocky marriage … the international spy. I’ve read about your exploits in Net Impact and Wet Work, and so I’ve some questions for you.
Of all the careers you could have chosen, why the spy-biz? What about it lured you? And what about it has caused you to stay with it rather than pursue a normal 9-5 that would give you more family time?
There are 9 to 5 jobs? Not that I can tell. Teachers bring tests home to grade, workers are on call around the clock, real estate brokers always have to answer the phone, everyone from salesmen to executives is constantly responding to  texts and emails. Let’s face it. All jobs suck, so you might as well do something you’re good at that makes a difference in the world. None of my jobs have been 9 to 5. Army, Chicago Police Department, Catalyst Crisis Consultant (spy for the Subsidiary). This last job is better than the first couple–more freedom to do what needs to be done and less politics.
Bombs. Pyrotechnics. You seem to be an expert, or at least a fan. What’s the appeal? What are your go-to explosive devices and why? What’s the biggest thing you’ve blown up? And what movie would you recommend that “blows up real good?” 
Are you trying to get me in trouble with my boss, Dee Tamany? She was pissed off about my use of explosives before my last couple of missions, so asking me questions about favorite explosives like I’m some kind of pyromaniacal firebug doesn’t do my career prospects any favors. Let’s just say it’s always good to have a few flares in the truck–good warning devices if you break down and they burn hot enough you can light anything that needs lighting in a hurry, even during a storm. Don’t watch many movies, but Mad Max: Fury Road was nifty on the big screen. That gal can drive and shoot.
The Subsidiary. Tell us a secret about it. Something not revealed in either of your novels. 
Not sure I really feel comfortable about this question. Talking about your employer is not something spies do. But Pyotr Nerevsky said to cooperate with this interview and he can be … irksome … when crossed, so here goes. The word is that, sure, the various countries behind the Subsidiary kick in funds to help finance it, but not the kind of money that lets it have the operational freedom and scope it does. There’s an individual behind it with more money than anybody should have. I’m not going to name names, not without some bamboo shoots under my fingernails, but you’d know the name and you’d agree he has money to burn. Glad to see he’s burning it for a good cause.
Globe-hopping—you do it a lot. Of all the places you’ve been, do you have a favorite? And why? 
Home sweet home. Traveling is a drag, especially undercover. The better part of being a spy is waiting around for something to happen. If you’ve seen one seedy warehouse district in one third-world country, you’ve seen ’em all.
Given the current political climate … regarding the world, the White House, and the intelligence community … how has the spy-game changed? 
The Subsidiary was created to keep politics and national rivalries from hindering the missions that need to occur for the good of mankind. When I start a mission, I do what needs to be done and I don’t stop until I accomplish my mission no matter what. 
Where are you going next? I heard that your next appearance will be in a novel called Flash Drive. Give us a hint where you’re going and what your adventure might entail … nothing to spoil the story, just something to pique our curiosity. 
You know that Australia has almost nothing in the center of the continent–everybody and everything is clustered around the coast. Well, a lot … a lot … can happen in the middle of a great big bunch of nothing. Stuff that would scare you to death, if the critters out back don’t get you first. Some danger is even stranger than the bizarre stuff you can find on the internet.
Thanks for chatting, Mr. Thornby. I wish you well in your future incendiary adventures.

HERE is the link to Wet Work.

HERE is the link to Net Impact, the first Dick Thornby tale.

HERE is the link to Donald J. Bingle’s Amazon page.

HERE is Donald J. Bingle’s website.


I Measure My Life in Dog Years

I really do … count my life in dog years. The number of years I share with dogs.

I only briefly did not have a dog, and that was when I graduated college and moved to Quincy, Illinois, and rented a wholly dumpy apartment (which I could barely afford) that said “no pets.” I paid my rent for a few months and then asked the landlord if I could get a dog. He said he’d mull it over, and I said I’d be looking for another place.

He said “yes” in the next sentence. I guess I was a good tenant. And I did not grow pot … like the two girls upstairs did, and who attracted the attention of the police.

Said dog, a mutt named Purple, lived to be two months shy of making the legal voting age. Purple was dealt a great hand of cards.

Wrinkles, my beloved pug … he’s not destined for such a lofty number of dog years.

He’s heading toward twelve, a good age for a pug … though I’ve seen pictures of pugs on Facebook purported to be sixteen and seventeen years old. And no matter how much I spend on dog food (buying Exclusive, a top brand, in Savoy) and supplements, I can’t stave off the maladies of the years. Dogs, like people, are dealt different cards regarding aging.

I’m writing this post about Wrinks because several friends have asked about him, and I thought I’d cover it just once, here.

He’s been “fecal incontinent” for the past eight months. I’m not gonna go into that. You can look it up. I carry paper towels and little bags in my pocket, and so I deal with it. He’s happy. I have laminate floors and an unlimited supply of patience. Life is good. He has breathing issues (about two years ago he had surgery to remove an inch and a quarter of his palate to help). And he has this big cyst (big for a little pug) dangling from the inside of his leg. My husband calls it Wrinks’ second penis. It’s ugly and sometimes oozes. As I said, I have paper towels, and my patience cannot be exhausted … with dogs.

Don’t think I haven’t been to the vet’s. Wrinks goes more often than he needs to because the vet is close here in my tiny town and I am a caring “dog mom.” The vet says his heart is good. (I know. He’s a very good dog, my Wrinks.) It’s just some other things that aren’t in as top-notch order. We’re watching the cyst–it isn’t cancer–and hoping we can avoid surgery. The vet drained it once, but it came back. Said vet doesn’t think surgery is the best option given Wrinks’ age and breathing issues. So … paper towels and we’re doing well.

I love dogs. I love Wrinkles endlessly. And I will baby him and pick him up so he can sit on the couch or lay at the foot of the bed. I sneak him green beans, chicken, and pieces of cheese when my husband isn’t looking. Well, maybe Bruce looks sometimes, but has the good sense not to say anything. I take him for very short walks, to the end of the driveway and back, as he has arthritis and huffs if we go farther. When I had a patio poured last summer, I had them make little steps … three and a half inches high … to accommodate my pug.

I had pugs when I was a kid. They are among my very best childhood recollections … and the worst memories when they left me. I wanted another pug when I was out on my own, but couldn’t afford one. Purple, the mutt I mentioned earlier, was a $30 dog. She’s what I could afford when I graduated NIU and got my first newspaper job–which didn’t pay much.

Bruce knew I loved pugs, and so when we moved to Wisconsin, we’d stop at the pet shop that often had them … just so I could look. Bruce was fond of going there because he liked to see me happy. But he said he would not allow a pug or any other “smooshy faced” dog in the house. (That was a mistake: don’t tell me what I can’t have or can’t do. That only makes me more determined.) He said he loved dogs with proper snouts. In fact, we had two dogs in Wisconsin, both with “proper snouts.” And I treasured them dearly. But I still wanted a pug, maybe to recapture something of my youth. More, I think, just because I adored the breed.

Anyway, enter Jean Rozinski. She was a marvelous dog groomer who lived in Kenosha and who happened to come across a missive on the internet about a woman needing to “re-home” her pug. She forwarded the message to me.

I acted on it IMMEDIATELY. I reached out to Juliana, an incredible woman who at the time was in the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (I dedicated my mystery, The Dead of Winter to Juliana, because indeed she is incredible.)

I was keeping this all secret, of course, intending for Wrinkles to arrive during the week when Bruce was at work. My office was in our house, which would make this convenient–I’d be home and Bruce wouldn’t. Juliana and I connected, and she was going to bring Wrinks over for a meet-and-greet.

In the meantime, we went out for pizza with a gathering that included Jean Rozinski. She leaned down the table and asked me: “Are you going to get that pug?”

I swore Bruce’s eyes popped out of his head. It was the most horrified startled expression I’d seen.

“I hope so,” I answered. “She’s coming by this week.”

“What pug?” Bruce was still shell-shocked.

“We’ll talk about it later,” I said.

The discussion wasn’t pleasant in the car.

But I was determined. I was not going to back down.

Juliana arrived with Wrinks, and we all hit it off right away. I told her to consider it a foster, and that if she ever needed her little dog back, I would hand him over. And in all the eight years since I was worried she would take me up on that.

He is my shadow, stretched across my feet this very moment. He is my heart. He has to know where I am, and insists on joining me. He sleeps with his head on my foot, probably so that if I move he will wake and can follow me.

I don’t know how much time I have left with him. I hope a long while. He played yesterday. Played! And that is a marvelous sign.

Bruce says maybe he will reach sixteen or seventeen like one of those pugs on Facebook. It’d be glorious, eh? But I’ve a bad feeling that won’t be the case.

By the way … through the years I’ve caught Bruce on many occasions kissing the top of Wrinkles’ head and giving him a taste of ice cream. Bruce apparently decided eight summers ago that smooshy faced dogs were fine.

I put Wrinks in my Piper Blackwell mystery books. He’s in The Dead of Summer, which I’m working on now. In fact, I’m going to close this column and take my laptop on the back porch. It’s a glorious day, and Wrinks can lay at my feet in front of the fan. And when he hears a train … ’cause his hearing still works a little … he’ll jog outside to the back of the fence and bark quite sternly.

He’s been keeping the trains out of my backyard ever since we moved here.

Good dog, Wrinkles. Very good dog.