By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
(Author’s note – I met Robert several years ago… during my “dark days”. After watching him on the train for several weeks, I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him… it was more than just curiosity. I sensed in Robert a sorrow and a pain that I knew all too well. I think I rather fancied us as “kindred spirits”, if you will. Over a period of weeks, Robert told me his story… it was tragic and heartbreaking. I have changed certain elements of the story to protect the innocents. I hope, in my retelling, that I have maintained the integrity of Robert’s words. VMLS)
I did my thirty and got out. Had enough of drunk or stoned sailors coming back from shore leave, reeking of piss, vomit, and booze. Got a belly full of oxygen thieves pretending to be men… who beat their wives or got into brawls over who was the best left-handed pitcher of all time… Sandy Koufax, as if there was ever any doubt, or tried to stiff the $10 hookers down on Harbor. Couldn’t deal with one more “mama’s boy” complaining that his feet hurt after a twenty mile hike.
So, after thirty years of keeping the peace and trying to turn boys into men, I got out. My wife of thirty-five years and I packed up and moved to the Pacific Northwest. We bought a condo in Portland, Oregon and a cabin up in the Cascades.
Lily took a professorship at Portland State University, teaching English to all those bright, shiny faces full of hope and promise… our future leaders. I settled back into my writing, grateful to at last be free of the interruptions of service life.
After my last novel, Lily offered that perhaps my character, a middle-aged P.I. plying his trade on the East Coast, might be getting just a bit tired. I couldn’t disagree with her. Getting out number ten in the Everett Thompson series was as painful as passing kidney stones… a none too subtle way of telling me to move on.
Ever since finishing I Kill, Therefore I Am, I had been toying with a new character… a female profiler with the FBI. Lily was quite thrilled at the idea. And now that we lived in Portland, where my new character was based, research for the new novel would be easier.
We had only been in Portland for about a year, when I lost Lily. I guess I kind of lost myself too… there for a while.
Lily and I had been coming back from a Blazer game one Friday night in late October. Fall was in full “bloom” and there was just a bit of a chill in the air. But, it was dry… something you don’t see a whole lot of in the Northwest this time of year.
It had been a good game… we beat Cleveland by eighteen. Folks don’t say “Portland beat…”, it’s always “…we beat.” There is a lot of Blazer pride in this town.
We had caught the MAX up at the Rose Garden and settled in for the twenty minute train ride back downtown. Age does have its privilege… a nice, young couple vacated their seats in the SRO car, for Lily and I. The four of us chatted about the game as the train glided through the night.
By the time the train arrived at the Courthouse Square stop, most of the riders had disembarked. That’s when things started to go south. A couple of punks decked out in black leather and chains got on the train and started kicking up a ruckus.
As they passed by Lily and me, I gave them a hard look… twenty years as a military cop, I don’t take crap from punks… and the leader of the two stopped for a moment, like maybe he was going to say something, and then thought better of it. He just stared at me… I stared back. After a few moments, the two moved on into the next car, and I didn’t give them any more thought.
Things happened pretty fast after that, and I’m sorry to say… there are still some things to this day that I simply don’t remember. What I do remember though, is picking myself up off the floor of the moving train to find two young girls huddled over Lily… one of them trying to stem the flow of blood from the switchblade knife sticking out of her chest… and the other one holding Lily’s head in her lap, trying to comfort her.
Lily died that night… before the paramedics arrived. A part of me died that night too… Lily was my whole life… always had been… she was my rock. I…
I sort of “went away” for a while… tried to sort things out… figure out what I was going to do without my Lily…
I’m back now.
I ride the MAX trains every day… the Green Line… the Yellow Line… the Blue Line… the Red Line… WES… the Portland Streetcar… watching…
No, that’s not right… not watching… hunting…
I let my hair grow out… let the beard go all long and straggly… kitted out in worn, baggy clothes from the Goodwill, I look like any of the dozens of other homeless riding the train… old and harmless… talking to myself… casting furtive glances about… nobody gives me no mind.
I see them doing their best to ignore me… pretending I’m not there. That’s fine with me. I’m not interested in them.
I never forget a face. I’ll find him. Then I will end him.
(Author’s note – About a year ago, I came across Robert’s obituary in the local paper. I do not believe it was chance that led me that day to read a newspaper that I boycott for its hypocrisy. A weight came off of my heart with the realization that Robert was at long last reunited with his Lily… in Heaven. VMLS)