ABOUT IDENTITY CRISIS
When rumors of how Dan Hamilton actually died reach the Cheyenne Chief of Police, Brian Koski is forced to resign his position as captain of the Sixth Precinct and go into business for himself as a private detective. His partner? A mahogany colored Belgian Malinois named Sinbad. A former NYPD police dog, Sinbad is vicious when need be and reliable to a fault–unless a train goes by or there’s a thunderstorm, then chances are he will turn tail and run.
Brian’s first clients are Jeff and Melody Patten. He’s an explosives expert for a local demolitions company, she’s a stay-at-home Mom. Both are devoted parents to their young daughter, Angela. The problem comes in the form of one Collin Lanaski, an unstable ex-Air Force lieutenant and Angela’s second grade teacher, who suddenly starts insisting that Angela is his daughter—the same daughter who died in a tragic car accident four years earlier. What does Collin base this incredible revelation on? Dog tags and car seats. Brian is convinced the man has suffered a psychotic break. He’s delusional and dangerous, and it becomes the P.I.’s job to protect Angela from a madman.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Jean Hackensmith. Can you tell us what your latest book, Identity Crisis, is all about?
A: Identity Crisis is the second book in my B.K. Investigations series. Book One, Checkmate, has been well received with, I’m happy to say, some amazing reviews. Identity Crisis follows the career of former Cheyenne, WY police captain, Brain Koski. After being forced to resign his position with the Cheyenne PD, Brian is left with no choice but to open his own P.I. business. His first clients are Jeff and Melody Patten, parents of seven-year-old Angela who, the distraught couple is convinced, is being stalked by her former teacher, Collin Lanaski. Lanaski is convinced that Angela is his daughter—the same daughter who was killed in a car accident, along with her mother, five years earlier. When Lanaski kidnaps Angela, Brian enlists the aide of a psychic and a former NYPD police dog (the sometimes unpredictable Sinbad) in his desperate search for the little girl.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A:Brian was forced to resign his position with the Cheyenne PDdue to suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the psychotic Dan Hamilton (the villain in Checkmate). He is then labeled a “rogue” cop and blackballed from the law enforcement industry by his new boss and old adversary, Chief Martin Stanley.
A devout playboy in his mid-forties, Brian is immediately attracted to the dark and sultry Katrina Cordova, a psychic who comes to him with information on the whereabouts of little Angela Patten. Struck by lightning when she was a child, Katrina’s detailed and very accurate visions are prompted by thunderstorms. Her most disturbing revelation, however, has nothing to do with Angela. The recurring vision of a massive explosion where hundreds, perhaps thousands of people will die becomes more detailed in each successive B.K. Investigations book, leaving Katrina and Brian to try and solve this ultimate attack on America by the end of the series.
The last supporting character that will appear in all of the B.K. Investigations books is the endearing and sometimes unpredictable Sinbad, a former NYPD police dog that was removed from service due to his fear of loud noises. The sound of trains, helicopters, and thunder, among other things, will send the dog running with his tail between his legs. Luckily for Brian, the one loud noise Sinbad is not afraid of is gun fire.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: For the most part, my characters are a figment of my imagination.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: I’ve told many people over the years that my books tend to “write themselves.” I’ll have a basic plot outlined in my head when I start writing, but more often than not situations will just kind of “appear” on the page—scenes that were in no way part of my original outline. My characters determine the path of the story and, as they develop, so does the story itself.
Q: Your book is set in Cheyenne, WY. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by the Rocky Mountains and, in fact, have written several books set in that area. Though I live nowhere near the Rockies, I have visited on several occasions. The beauty of that area is inspiring and creates many picturesque settings in which to place my characters.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: In some ways, yes. In Identity Crisis, I needed a good place for someone to hide out, and what better place than in the mountains?
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: Chris Byrne from Stonehill Kennel has just arrived with Sinbad and is putting Brian through the paces of becoming the former police dog’s handler. Chris Byrne is an actual person, who has been indispensable to me in writing both Checkmate and Identity Crisis. He owns Stonehill Kennel in Connecticut, and actually trains police and protection dogs. He is also a former sheriff. His expertise both in making the dogs believable characters and in tweaking the law enforcement parts of the book has been invaluable. He was also kind enough to let me use his actual name and business in the series.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: “Mr. Lanaski? I’m Brian Koski. We spoke last week?”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
Once again, the tall, blond man attempted to slam the door in Brian’s face and, also once again, he prevented the action.
“I’d beg to differ on that point. You’ve been harassing my clients, Collin, and in particular, their little girl. It has to stop before you land in jail.”
“Angela, or rather Courtney, is my daughter,” Lanaski ground out. “I may not be able to prove it right now, but I will. And, when I do, it’ll be them sitting in jail. Not me.”
“So, why don’t you tell me about it, Collin? Why don’t you invite me in and explain why you’re so certain that Angela Patten is your daughter?”
The taller man, taller in fact by three inches, studied the private investigator for a long, arduous moment. His deep blue eyes almost seemed to look right through Brian, and the former cop had to quell the shudder that threatened to wrack his body. There was definitely something eerie about this guy, and Brian cautioned himself silently to stay on alert…if Lanaski agreed to let him inside, which apparently he had.
“Okay, I’ll talk to you…but only if you agree to hear me out before you come to any conclusions.”
“Agreed,” Brian answered readily.
Lanaski opened the door wide, then stepped aside and allowed Brian to enter. The experienced cop sidled into the room, never letting his eyes leave the other man. When the door had been closed and Lanaski had seated himself at a table in the small dining area, Brian relaxed…at least somewhat. He moved to scan the myriad of pictures that hung on the wall in the equally tiny living room. Most contained the vision of a lovely, platinum blonde–haired woman. In some of the photos, Collin stood beside her. In all of them, with the exception of the wedding photo in the center of the collage, one or the other held a child—an adorable little towheaded baby girl ranging in age from birth to three years old. Other pictures featured only the child in various stages of growth. She definitely had the same hair color and facial features as Angela Patten, but the seasoned detective was well aware of the fact that, at that age, a child could resemble anyone you wished them to.
“Are these pictures of your wife and daughter?”
“They were beautiful.”
“Yes, they were…and Courtney still is.”
Brian turned…and got right to the point. “So, tell me about the dog tags.”
“I’m former Air Force. 1st Lieutenant. I always wore my dog tags, even when I was home on leave. From the time Courtney was three months old, she would play with them whenever I held her. She was fascinated by them. Before I left for Iraq, I told my C.O. that I had lost one of them, so they issued me a third one, which I gave to Courtney. I wanted her to have something to remember me by.”
“How long was that before the accident? When you went to Iraq, I mean.”
“About six months.”
“And your wife and daughter stayed here, on the base?”
“They couldn’t very well go with me.”
Brian ignored the snide remark. “And Courtney was what? Three years old when you left?”
“Actually, she was only two. She turned three while I was gone.” His eyes teared suddenly. “You know, I was never here for even one of her birthdays. I wasn’t even here when she was born.” He looked at Brian. “And I haven’t been able to be there for her birthday for the last four years, either.”
Brian also chose not to comment on the other man’s reference to Angela’s last four birthdays and continued the questioning. “So, finish telling me about the dog tag you gave her. Why are you so convinced that your daughter would have been wearing it the day of the accident?”
“Because she wore it on a chain around her neck, and I told her to never take it off. I told her it was magic and would keep her safe, and she took me literally!” Collin stood to wander the room and, surprisingly a slight, reminiscent smile curved his lips. “Whenever I talked to Lynn—”
“Lynn was your wife?”
He nodded. “She would tell me how she couldn’t pry the damned thing off Courtney. Even when she’d give her a bath, she had to leave it on or Courtney would throw a fit. She’d tell her, ‘my daddy’s, my daddy’s.’ She even wore it to bed, which actually worried Lynn, because she was afraid the chain might get tangled or caught and choke her.” He turned to Brian. “She would have had that dog tag on the day of the accident, Mr. Koski, but when I viewed what was left of their bodies after I got home, it wasn’t around her neck and the coroner swore he didn’t take it off her. There was also the whole thing with the car seat.”
“The car seat?”
“We bought a new one just before I left for Iraq; the old one was worn and just kind of nasty since she’d been eating, and sometimes peeing, in it for two years. I remember the new one vividly, because I had such a hell of a time getting it secured in the car. It was a Dora the Explorer car seat, a limited edition, more of a booster seat style. It didn’t really have sides on it. The one that was in the car, though, was the wrap-around kind, like for a younger child. It was also on the wrong side of the car. Lynn always insisted on having the car seat on the passenger side in the back seat, so she could look over her shoulder and see Courtney. The seat in the burned-out car was behind the driver and, again, the police and the coroner insist that nobody moved it.”
“I’ll admit that’s a little strange, but it doesn’t prove—”
“Yes, it does! You would had to have known my wife to see that it does prove it. Lynn was a meticulous type person, especially when it came to Courtney. That car seat was always in the back seat on the passenger side, and it was found behind the driver’s seat after the accident!”
“And there are any number of reasons why she might have moved it. The seat belt on the passenger side might have broken, or the seat itself became unsafe. The position of the car seat does not in and of itself prove anything. And, even if it did, you had only the one child and that one child was found in the car after the accident.”
“Then what about the scar?”
Brian’s eyes narrowed. “What scar?”
“The scar on Angela Patten’s right shin. She fell out on the playground one day and skinned her knee. When I rolled up her pants leg to clean and disinfect the cut, I noticed that she had a scar on her shin. Courtney also had a scar—in the exact same place! She fell off a swing when she was just over a year old and cut her leg. Lynn had to take her in for stitches…and it left a scar!”
Brian’s chest rose in a sigh. “Kids get bumps and bruises and cuts all the time, Mr. Lanaski. All kids. It’s not that much of a stretch to believe that Angela could have injured herself in the same place that Courtney did.”
“It is a stretch! When you combine it with everything else, all the other discrepancies, it’s a stretch!”
“Your daughter is dead, Mr. Lanaski,” Brian countered gently. “As painful as that is to accept, she died in that accident, along with your wife, and there was a body to prove it.”
“My daughter is not dead! I know it! I would feel it if she was. I felt that pain when I viewed Lynn’s body, but I never felt it when I saw Courtney because that child was not her! She’s alive, and somehow the Pattens got ahold of her. They’ve been raising her as their own daughter, and she is mine!”
For the first time since arriving at the Lanaski home, Brian caught a glimpse of the man that Collin Lanaski had become. His fists were clenched, his eyes wild, his jaw tense. Even the veins in his forehead threatened to burst with his level of agitation—agitation born of an incredible, all-consuming grief.
“Mr. Lanaski, please, you have to be reasonable—”
“I said, get out! Get the hell out of my house! Go back to your clients and tell them that I know! I know they took my daughter and I will damn well kill them if I have to to get her back!”
“You’d better watch the threats, Mr. Lanaski.”
“It’s not a threat. It’s a promise,” he ground out.
“Are you aware that your wife had filed for divorce?”
Lanaski did a double-take, and the rage left his eyes in an instant. “What?”
“Thomas Mathison, the lawyer who is not going to take your case by the way, was actually retained by your wife a few months before the accident. She was going to divorce you, Collin. She just didn’t want to tell you while you were in Iraq fighting for your country. She was going to wait until you got home.”
“That’s impossible.” Lanaski’s voice came out in barely a whisper. “We had a good marriage.”
“Apparently she didn’t think so.”
“Get out,” he growled.
“Is it possible that your wife saw this side of you, Collin? The side I’m seeing right now? The psychotic, delusional, crazy part of you?”
“I said, get out!”
“You need help, Mr. Lanaski. You’re in full-fledged denial. You need help to accept your daughter’s death, and you also need help with your anger issues. If you don’t get that help, the anger is going to fester and the delusions are going to grow, and you’re going to be a danger to everyone around you, including the children in your class at Lebhart that you’ve sworn to nurture and protect—”
Lanaski’s eyes widened with a sudden dawning. “You got me suspended, didn’t you?”
“When I went into work this morning, I was called into the principal’s office. She suspended me until the whole Angela Patten situation, as she put it, had been settled. That was you, wasn’t it? You told her that I’m psychotic and delusional!”
“I did talk to Mrs. Sampson, yes. Whatever action she took was her decision. Not mine.”
“You need professional help, Mr. Lanaski. Please, see someone before this escalates out of control.”
Collin advanced toward Brian slowly, methodically. The former police captain held his ground, even as the final, scathing words poured from Lanaski’s mouth. “Angela Patten is my daughter. I will never believe otherwise. The Pattens are the ones with a problem…a big problem…and that problem is me! They took my daughter—when and how I don’t know yet, but trust me, I’ll find out. And when I do, they’ll damn well give her back to me or they’ll find themselves lying dead in a ditch somewhere! And you, detective, if you try to stop me from proving my claim, will be lying right beside them.”
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Jean. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been fun.
ABOUT JEAN HACKENSMITH
I have been writing since the age of twenty. (That’s 37 years and, yes, I’m disclosing my age.) I am the proud mother of three, stepmother of two, and grandmother to twelve wonderful children. I lost the love of my life, my husband Ron, in November of 2011 when he died in an accident at work. He took my heart with him and, for a time, my desire to write. Time, as they say, heals all wounds, and I have again discovered my passion for the written word. In fact, I find it strangely comforting to delve into the intricate webs that are my character’s lives and immerse myself in their existence instead of dwelling on my own.
Next to writing, my second passion is live theater. I founded a local community theater group back in 1992 and directed upwards of 40 shows, including three that I authored. I also appeared on stage a few times, portraying Anna in The King and I and Miss Hannigan in Annie. I am sad to say that the theater group closed its final curtain in 2008, but those 16 years will always hold some of my fondest memories.
My husband and I moved from Superior five years ago, seeking the serenity of country living. We also wanted to get away from the natural air conditioning provided by Lake Superior. We moved only 50 miles south, but the temperature can vary by 20-30 degrees. I guess I’m a country girl at heart. I simply love this area, even though I must now enjoy its beauty alone. I love the solitude, the picturesque beauty of the sun rising over the water, the strangely calming effect of watching a deer graze outside your kitchen window. Never again, will I live in the city. I am an author, after all, and what better place to be inspired than in God’s own back yard.