by Tj O'Connor, author of Dying for the Past, Dying to Know, and the upcoming Dying to Tell.
Heroes are not born. Heroes are not created by government or society. They certainly are not sports stars on television or in newspapers. Heroes are made by circumstances and life itself. Not everyone has it in them to be a hero. Few do. Oh, it’s not just the daring and the brave and the larger than life who can be heroes. No. To me, they are not always those who blaze into battle or swashbuckle into adventure with sword and weapon slashing away at evil and despair. Sometimes—perhaps more often—heroes are the quiet, unassuming ones who tough it out event after event, year after year, doing good and battling the darkness without fanfare or notoriety. More often than not, heroes are unsung as they are invaluable—a quote from a book I read long ago and cannot recall the source. We may not know they are around us. But when they are not, we feel their absence. We see the void.
I feel that void now—and I will for a very long time.
As an author, I like my heroes just that way—less swashbuckling and more demure. Oh, I like to write them with some flare—a crazy sense of humor, a snappy wit, perhaps a wry disposition. But they don’t blaze in or careen about in danger. They blunder and fail, and above all, they flounder forward. Not always intentionally, but always forward.
In my books—and of the nine I’ve penned, only three have been published—they all have a common hero. Oh, he goes by various names and has differing roles to play—Trick McCall, Doc Gilley, and the ever present Oscar LaRue. They are all the same man. This character is not a product of imagination and late night keyboard-dancing. He is real—was—and has been my friend, mentor, and hero for nearly twenty-five years. Oscar LaRue—the current namesake—has had a place in three unpublished novels and morphed into Doc and Trick along the way to three others. Doc has seen the bookshelves, and I promise my friend, Oscar will too. One day. I owe you that. You insisted on that.
I lost Oscar LaRue on August 16 of this year. Oscar did not suffer. He did not show any signs of weakness or failure—the doctors continually reminded me the end was near. I couldn’t see it and yet, I also couldn’t write a new chapter and give Oscar another few pages. He had a heart attack in between two of our ritual lunches the week before and he didn’t know it. Neither did I. It would take him just four days later with reoccurrence. Oscar simply succumbed to age and a failed heart with his daughter beside him—a promise I made when he first reached the hospital. He’s done it all but wanted one last visit with her. I promised. I stayed with him over night waiting for her arrival—watching the clock and dials and monitors and ... him. Despite the lines and wires and hospital wizardry, we shared stories and laughs and a few tears in those hours. Some I will not repeat. Some I will steal for a future Oscar LaRue thriller. All I will never forget.
Oscar LaRue was my hero. Not just in my novels. Not just in my head. He was in my life, too. And he’s gone now. But his wisdom, camaraderie, wry wit, and constant mentoring will fill me forever. Oh, hell, I’ll even miss his damn puns!
I first met the man who would be Oscar LaRue in November of 1992. I had recently left the OSI and was searching for a new career and home. I was nearly out of money, bordering bankruptcy, and had heard “No” so many times I had lost hope. Oscar found me—how, I don’t know—but within hours I was sitting across his desk staring at an unassuming man. Oscar was no greater than five-three or so—slight of build, pale, Germanic features, thinning hair, and devilish eyes smiling behind his wire rimmed glasses, which he polished every few moments—more for effect than clarity of vision. After a brutal interview, I was about to excuse myself in defeat when Oscar found the connection that would change both our lives for the next twenty-five years. “Ah, I see you operated in Greece in the 80s. So did I—but in the 1950s.”
And so it began. Oscar and I had stomped the same marble paths, the same dusty roads. We’d drank in the same towns and tavernas. He’d fought the communists in the early fifties in Greece, and my enemy had been the terrorists in the 1980s. We’d both grown up there, among the ancient ruins, separated by thirty-five years.
My new career, and our bond, began that afternoon. For four years we worked together—he my mentor and I his protégé—until his retirement. Afterwards, he took a personal interest in my writing and became my editor, creative director, critic, sounding board, and constant companion through six more novels. What had been a daily routine over tea and coffee in his corner office lasted all these years over wine and lunch and dinner and travel.
Until August 16, when Oscar gave me his last editorial on my current novel. He pointed his last finger with steel and admiration and directed how Oscar LaRue would maneuver through my books. And then, after time with his daughter, he was gone.
The true man behind Oscar LaRue makes him a hero by any standard. Oscar was raised in Rough and Ready, Pennsylvania—a Depression-era farm town. He was an only child and he and his mother worked hard and long for everything they needed to simply survive. World War II was upon us and Oscar was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services—OSS—a unit of saboteurs, spies, and hell raisers—the first of this country’s special operations forces—and he fought the Germans in Northern Africa, Italy, and Europe. Afterwards, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency where he climbed the ranks and become the Deputy Director of Communications. During those years, he witnessed—and participated—in history that many today don’t recall, can’t understand, or simply find meaningless. I’m talking about the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR, China, Viet Nam, spies, saboteurs … No, Oscar was not the spy behind the Iron Curtain or the linchpin at the Paris Peace Talks. But he was a fixture of intelligence and communications, an advisor and a thinker. The man behind the curtain. A finger in many pies.
Oscar was a father. A writer. A lawyer. A senior executive. My boss. My mentor. My friend.
Age took Oscar—he was 91. He’d travelled the world ten times over. He’d studied all there was. He’d learned all he could. He’d fought the bad guys, saved the good guys, and pushed the rest of us up the mountain more than once. He did for me. There was little more for any man to do.
Oscar LaRue is that character in all my books that he was in real life. Not the main swashbuckling hero, but the man behind the scenes. He’s the curmudgeon Doc Gilley guiding Oliver Tucker with a slap behind the head and a pointed-thrust of his tongue in Dying to Know. He’s the mysterious, Trick McCall, the OSS operative returned to right the wrong and help Richard Jax stop human traffickers in New Sins for Old Scores. And he’s the omnipotent spy master, Oscar LaRue, poking and prodding Jon Hunter in Double Effect as they stalk terrorists in small town Winchester. And in them, and my novels to come, Oscar LaRue, perhaps under other nom de guerres, will go on to new adventures and live forever in print.
Wallace K. “Wally” Fetterolf was—always will be—Oscar LaRue, Doc Gilley, and Trick McCall. Life took him August 16, 2015. He was a great man. A great father. A great storyteller. The greatest friend and mentor. He was my hero.
I refused to say goodbye in that hospital room. I will not now, nor ever will, say farewell in my novels. You will be there. Somewhere. After all, you insisted.
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” George S. Patton
Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS
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