Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Museum of Crime and Punishment

If you’re planning a trip to DC, there’s a new museum you might want to check out. The National Museum of Crime and Punishment at 575 7th Street NW, right in the heart of the revitalized downtown area.

They lured me in with a summer special for Maryland, DC, and Virginia residents. If you arrive after 6 pm, when things are slow, you get in for $6. What a deal. Turns out, those hours were perfect because the best interactive exhibits weren’t crowded.

The museum starts with historic crime and punishment, and you might want to speed past the medieval torture devices to get to the more relevant modern exhibits. Although I did get a kick standing next to the bullet-riddled Ford where Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down. And also my up close and personal inspection of the French guillotine.

If I got a chance to redesign the museum, I’d put in more interactive exhibits. A lot of the early material consists of pictures and explanations–like the strict rules for Sabbath behavior in colonial Massachusetts.

You can also look at pictures and read about such notorious episodes as the Lindbergh kidnapping, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, Ted Kaczynski, Robert Morris (the kid who launched the worm that almost brought down the Internet) and serial killers like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer. But some exhibits feature mock-ups or props–like the luxury jail cell where Capone was incarcerated. You can also inspect a real electric chair and gas chamber (with explanations of how they were used.). Then on to lethal injection.

The farther you get, the more “good stuff” there is, like the makeshift weapons confiscated from U.S. prisons and a chilling lecture from a warden to new inmates. (Life as you knew it is over. You will have no privacy. You will obey all rules. If you’re good, you’ll get assigned a job where you can earn twelve cents an hour.) Then you can step inside a jail cell–and escape through a hole in the wall.

Other fun exhibits include a morgue, complete with a “body” on the autopsy table, the crime lab, the lineup, where you can join a crew of skuzzy looking guys. You can also see mug shots of famous people, including Frank Sinatra and Mel Gibson and guess who they are. Of course, there’s also that notorious shot of Nick Nolte.

The most fun stuff was near the end. I watched several people drive a police patrol simulator, then tried it myself. Since most of them ended up crashing or hitting pedestrians, I drove very cautiously. I never would have caught up with the speeder if he hadn’t stopped and waited for me. Next was the best of all, the FBI shooting scenarios, where you’re given a “gun,” then watch a scene unfold on a big screen. When a bad guy tries to shoot you, you try and nail him first. I’m glad to report that I killed him.

In the basement is the studio where they shoot America’s Most Wanted. You can tour the sets and get a friend to point a video camera at you. The picture’s shown on a big screen in the exhibit. But it’s in back of you, so you can’t check yourself out while you’re on camera.

All in all, a fun three hours if you’re into crime and punishment. And a lot to absorb in one visit. I’ll have to go back for more.

You can see the hours and prices for the museum at http://www.crimemuseum.org/purchase_online.html .


Sunday, August 23, 2009

From Noah Fielding

There’s a scene in my August Harlequin Intrigue, MORE THAN A MAN, where Noah Fielding wakes up weak and confused. He’s survived a near-death experience, but he doesn’t know where he is–or what time period he’s in. I don’t have room in the book to go into his thoughts in depth. But I’ve written them here, from his POV in first person present tense.

Captivity. Again. But where and when?

Disjointed thoughts swirl through my head, and I can capture none of them. I hear a woman crying. Who is she? Does she weep for me? I try to grab a memory, but it slips away, and I want to scream in frustration. But I cannot speak. Cannot move. Cannot even open my eyes. And my body is on fire.

I fight the agonizing pain in every cell of my body, praying for death. But death eludes me–again.

Where am I? Do the Franciscans have me in the cellars below the abbey, confined because they think I’m in league with the devil? No, that can’t be true. I escaped from the monks long ago.

Has the Doge of Venice arrested me for shipping treasures out of his city-state? But didn’t I bribe my way out of his prison?

Am I in the clutches of the Nazis–because they think I’m spying for the Allied forces? No, I remember escaping from their transport van in a hail of bullets. They left me for dead by the side of the road.

I lie in the dark, trying to clear my head as jumbled images dance like scenes from a nightmare behind my closed lids. So many centuries. So many lives. And always I must hide my identity. I was born in a small village in England. Centuries ago. But I am always apart, separated by my long life and the need to hide my true identity. That was easier centuries ago. I could pretend to die and disappear into the mist. Today computers keep track of everything.

Computers. Ah. Finally I have a reference point. This must be late in the 20th century–or the 21st.

A woman’s cries bring another stab of pain. I have longed for love, yet over the lonely centuries each woman in my life has left me. Some have run from me in horror when they learned my secret. Some have tried to kill me in their anger when they learned my secret. But the worst is when they grow old and die, while I stay the same. Always the same. Year after year. I look like a man in my early thirties with a full head of hair, a vigorous body and a sharp mind. Yet I am centuries old.

Finally, I know where I am and that Olivia, the woman I love, is with me.

My throat constricts as I think of the anguish I have brought her. My eyes flutter open, and I try to speak. But my throat is still too raw.

Oh Lord, Olivia. I didn’t have the courage to tell you my secret for fear you would leave me. You think I’ve sacrificed myself for you. But now I’m coming back to life before your eyes. I see the joy on your face. The wonder. But also the shock and the knowledge of my betrayal. I couldn’t tell you the truth about myself, and now you’ve found out in the most horrible way imaginable.

Fear claws at me. A monster of a man named Jarred Bainbridge holds us both captive. Can I save you from him–or is it already too late?

Noah Fielding.

So would you like to live forever? What are the disadvantages, do you think?