I rather stumbled upon O’Connor as a character. I needed someone with an edge- a thinker and a doer. To give him color, I made him more of an undercover cop who specializes in drugs, gangs and weapons. I often pair him with his partner, Detective Paul Eiselmann, and both are with the Waukesha (Wisconsin) Sheriff Department.
I named O’Connor (and Eiselmann) after a childhood friend who I lost touch with over the years. I pictured the boy from long ago and then imagined what he might look like later in life. I describe him as lanky and lean with long brown hair, and with a hawkish face. This cop can “see around corners” as my mom might say- someone who anticipates so well, he is usually ahead of the other cops he works with. Detective Jamie Graff and FBI Agent Pete Kelliher like working with O’Connor, because he “sees” more than what is apparent to most cops.
In Splintered Lives, one boy, Brett, describes him this way:
O’Connor sat down next to Brett, took a swallow from the bottle of water he had in his hand and said nothing further. He wasn’t dressed like a cop. To Brett, he looked sort of like an older college kid, one who wasn’t doing so well in school and who was perhaps about to flunk out because of too much alcohol and too many drugs.
O’Connor was a little tall and too skinny and had a burned out edge to him. He wore jeans with holes in both knees, beat up sandals, and an olive green t-shirt. The only thing that didn’t fit was that he looked like he had showered and he smelled clean.
O’Connor has a special interest in several of the boys because of his own childhood. Brett McGovern is one of his favorites. In Splintered Lives, O’Connor talks about his background in order to illustrate a point to Brett, who is struggling:
“I’m going to tell you something that only one other person knows and I’d like it kept that way, okay?”
“I’m the youngest of three brothers. My dad split after he beat up my oldest brother. When my mom tried to stop him, he beat her, too. He left and we never saw or heard from him again, which was okay with me. My mom wasn’t happy, though. After that, we never had much. Hell, even before that, we never had much.
“My two older brothers dropped out of high school when I was in middle school and they started running drugs. Weed and coke mostly. A little meth, some heroin. Shit, I guess that’s a logical progression, since they had already been using. They’d come home and get high, and try to get me to use. I refused, so my brothers took turns beating me. My mom found out and threw them out of the house.”
O’Connor paused, took a swallow of water. His eyes had a faraway look.
Brett recognized that look because he saw it every time he looked in the mirror.
“My mom worked three jobs the whole time I was in high school and I hardly ever saw her. I ended up putting myself through college and after that, I joined the sheriff department.”
“What does all that have to do with me?”
Ignoring the question, O’Connor continued. “I was working undercover on a drug ring. You know, following the small fish up the stream, trying to get to the big fish. This crew also ran some guns. Semi-automatics and handguns, so ATF was involved, but it was Paul’s and my show. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending upon your point of view, my two brothers were part of that ring. I was the one who put cuffs on them and read them their rights.”
Brett looked up at him.
O’Connor nodded. “I made a choice the day my brothers were thrown out of the house, maybe even before they left the house. Mom and I didn’t have it easy. I could have given up and threw it all away just like my dad and brothers, but I didn’t. I made a different choice.”
“You and your brother and the other guys have a choice to make. And watching Mike and Stephen and Gavin, and especially your brother, they will follow whatever you decide to do.”
“No, they won’t. Bobby won’t.”
“He worships the ground you walk on, Little Man. So do Mike and Stephen. Whatever you choose to do, whatever choices you make, they will, too.”
“So, how come you didn’t follow your brothers?”
“Because I knew it was wrong. Because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Because of my partner’s family. Mostly, my partner’s dad. They looked out for me. Paul and I were already friends, but his dad cared about me. Set an example.”
Brett thought of Jeremy taking in George and adopting Randy and Billy.
“Life can be pretty damn good, Little Man. It isn’t easy at times, but you already know that. But in the end, it all comes down to the choices you make.”
In my newest book, Blaze In, Blaze Out that is coming out January 6, 2022, O’Connor has a similar conversation with Brian, who has struggled with fitting in and finding his place in his adopted family. He is especially struggling ever since he returned from Arizona in my most recent book, Betrayed. The conversation O’Connor has with him stems from the struggle Brian had in Betrayed:
O’Connor watched Brian struggle. He could almost hear the gears turning in his head.
“What are you thinking about?”
Brian shook his head, and said, “Dad and I will work it out.” He said it, but he didn’t necessarily believe it. And if he did, he understood it would take considerable time.
“I hope so. He loves you, Bri.”
Brian snorted. He couldn’t help it.
“Don’t doubt that.”
Brian shook his head, not willing to talk about it any further.
O’Connor didn’t want to get into it right then and there, but he’d circle back to it at some point. He changed subjects and said, “I stand by what I said. You wouldn’t make a good cop because you have too good a heart. I know Brett wants to be a doctor, and that’s a good choice for him. He’s so damn smart. I worry about George and Two. They’re thinking of going into law enforcement. Both of them, and you and Brett, have been involved with too much. You’ve seen too much. Jamie, Paul and I want you to be kids, to grow up slowly, and not be involved in the crap we’ve . . . I’ve been involved with.”
Brian shrugged and said, “Too late for that.”
O’Connor leaned forward and set his Berretta on the ottoman and said, “If I could take it all back, I would. If there was a way to go back and make sure you guys didn’t have to do what you had to do, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
“Had to do?” Brian shook his head.
“Yes, had to do. Bri, think back to that psycho asshat in your woods last winter. If you wouldn’t have stopped him, he might have gotten into your house and who knows what he would have done.”
“But I want you to remember something, and this is important.” He paused, stared intently at Brian and said, “Instead of killing him, you only wounded him.” He repeated, “You wounded him, but you didn’t kill him. You made a decision, a choice to spare him.”
Brian brushed a tear off his cheek and said, “But in Arizona . . .”
O’Connor didn’t let him finish. He said, “You made another choice. That choice was just as good and necessary as the decision you made in the woods. You protected Brett, George, and Two. You protected yourself. If you hadn’t made that choice, the four of you wouldn’t be here. I’d be talking to a ghost.”
“But maybe I didn’t have to kill them. Those two men.” Brian stopped, shook his head, and looked away from O’Connor, then turned back and said, “I watched them die. I shot them.”
“And Brian, if you wouldn’t have, Brett, George, Two, and you would be dead. Graff, the FBI, and I are absolutely certain of it. Those men had murdered many others before they came after you. They had rap sheets the length of your leg. They were criminals. They came to kill you, and you stopped them before they could. And, look at you. The scars you have. The glasses you have to wear. The drops you have to put in your eyes. You know if you hadn’t shot them, they would have killed you, Brett, George and Two.”
O’Connor is a good cop with a good heart. He’s also a heck of a character. You can find him in each of my books, but in my book, Blaze In, Blaze Out, he has a feature role. We’ll have to wait until January to see if he comes out on the other side.