Where Zero Came From

A lot of people have written email asking me about the character of Zero from my Lawson series of urban fantasy thrillers. In the books, he plays Lawson’s mentor, of sorts. When Lawson graduated from his Fixer training, he was apprenticed to Zero – a legendary Fixer himself – to get real-world experience. But a simple apprenticeship led to a much deeper friendship and as such, Zero’s character has been seen a lot more than I’d originally planned.

But where does Zero come from? Is he, like many characters that authors write, a combination of people we know?

The simple answer is no. Zero is very much based on one particular person in my life. And I’d like to shine a light on that person now – even if I don’t happen to use his full name.

Ken H. was one of my closest pals back when I was doing private security and protection work. A literal mountain of a man, Ken stood at least six feet five inches and towered over pretty much everyone. He was built like a linebacker and he could move just as fast as one if the situation demanded it. He was from a blue-collar family north of Boston in Peabody and he’d lost his father early on, much like I did. Ken had come up the hard way, having to scrape and scrimp for everything he ever got. And he had a work ethic that reflected that drive – you know the type of person that never takes anything for granted, but just puts his nose to the grindstone until he achieves what he set out to achieve. Ken was like that.

When we used to work down by Boston’s waterfront, we’d take walks at lunch. This time of year meant that the ladies of the Financial District would be out in full force and Ken was a great admirer of the ladies. So was I, for that matter. But for all his blue-collar sensibility, and the stereotypes that people often attribute to that, Ken was extremely intelligent. He wouldn’t quote long passages by Plato or Socrates, but Ken had a keen insight into human behavior and I really enjoyed our talks while we strolled through the gardens of legs.

Over the years, Ken and I became close friends. We were in a number of high-stress situations that bonded us together in a way that only being in high-stress situations can. And we knew that we had each other’s back. There are few things more important than knowing who you’re able to trust your life to. For me, Ken was one of those men I could trust without reservation. And he counted on me in the same fashion. Ken was the first person to ever tell me that he was my number one fan. “Some day, your books are going to be everywhere. They’re amazing.” I was still struggling to find an agent or a publisher at the time and his forecast seemed unlikely.

“I’m going to create a character based on you,” I told him one day. Ken thought that was about the coolest thing he’d ever heard. And years later, when Lawson was born, Zero wasn’t far behind. In some ways, Zero was even easier to create because he already existed as Ken.

When I was fired for storing my novel-in-progress on the company computer, Ken proved that he had my back all over again. He was the only man I worked with who stood beside me and told the powers-that-were how stupid they were being and how the entire termination had been a witch hunt because I’d stood up to my bully of a boss. None of the other guys I worked with had the balls to do that.

Ken did.

Subsequently, they also fired Ken because he was unable to conceal his disgust with the treachery that had been displayed in my case. And he let everyone know it. “Ken, they’re going to can you, too, if you don’t rein it in,” I’d told him beforehand.

“Fuck ’em,” was Ken’s reply. “You never should have been fired. It was wrong. They were wrong. And if telling them that costs me my job, then so be it.”

It did cost him his job. But Ken’s resilient spirit never let him regret what he’d done. He simply switched gears and went into plumbing.

As a result of us not working together any longer, Ken and I grew apart. Our schedules never seemed to sync up and while we managed once or twice to get together, it wasn’t anything constant.

I found out earlier this year that Ken had been sick. Real sick. He needed a liver transplant and had been hospitalized for several months. He’d come close to dying a number of times but had managed to fight through it all. He got the transplant, and today, he’s on the mend. As he recovers, he’s keeping busy reading a ton of my stuff and he still proudly proclaims that he’s my number one fan.

He’s also damned inspirational. Not just because he was the source for Zero, but also because Ken never gives up, never quits, and never sold out his friend when loyalty meant the world to me. If ever there was a perfect mold to cast the character of Lawson’s mentor and closest friend, Ken is it.

This one’s for you, Kenny – keep getting well my friend – we’ve still got a lot of journeys ahead of us.

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