Usually when I start formulating ideas for my next thriller, the course I need to chart to conduct research is pretty clear. Minutes to Burn—go to Galápagos. Do No Harm—shadow doctors in emergency rooms. The Program—sneak undercover into mind-control cults. But for Troubleshooter, I had an odd mix of sub-topics to delve into.
First and foremost were the outlaw biker gangs. I figured there was no way I could write about bikers without learning to ride a Harley. One of my buddies has his motorcycle license, so I convinced him to rent a Fat Boy and teach me. Off we went to some back roads of the Valley, me taking mental notes before giving it a spin solo (what the hell—the deposit was on his credit card). Then we hit a few biker hang outs and I started to get a feel for the slang and the swagger. The Rockstore, at which a key scene in the book is set, is where we stopped for beer and burgers.
It took some doing, but I tracked down an FBI Special Agent in charge of the Violent Gangs Task Force in San Francisco, who gave me some time and started bringing me up to speed on the inner culture of the gangs. But I realized I’d need even more. I wanted to talk to someone who not just tracked and busted gangs, but who understood them from the inside out. Through one of my Navy SEALs buddies (a consultant for Minutes to Burn), I got ahold of a former undercover agent who’d ridden with biker gangs for seven years. We arranged a meeting, and I flew cross-country to meet him in Miami. He’d grown up in the gangs, and riding in such dangerous company for so many years meant he’d really become part of the culture. He didn’t despise bikers at all—they were a part of his life, even though his inside intel had helped dismantle some of the gangs’ criminal activities. We spent two days and nights talking and drinking, and he really helped me hammer out some of the details, the drug distribution scenarios in particular.
The drug smuggling device I came up with on my own, and that took me into a world of research about body packing. My desk drawers are stuffed with articles from medical journals about gastrointestinal products and procedures (I’m being purposefully vague here so as not to give away a key element of the plot). My father and sister are both gastroenterologists, and their input on the specifics proved invaluable.
I also had to do a crash course on corpses and cadaver preparation. I’d conducted an interview for Do No Harm with a lab tech, during which he’d literally carved up a cadaver to send the parts to various anatomy labs, so I was already familiar with some of the basics (duck when the Sawzall revs up, wear goggles and waterproof boots). But I had to round out my knowledge of the particulars even further, so I got ahold of a few mortician textbooks from tiny educational presses and gave those a read. I spent part of a Hawaiian vacation perusing them, and they drew some odd glances around the pool. It seems I get more used to such looks with every new book….