Friday, November 16, 2018 <> Brookings, Oregon

Brookings, Oregon is not at all what you would call a major metropolis, or for that matter, even a minor metropolis. It is simply a quiet little seaside town just north of the California border with a total of about thirteen thousand residents if you include a large surrounding area.

The average age of Brookings' residents is "retired," although a few work at California's Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City a few miles south of the border. Pelican Bay State Prison is a maximum security facility with most of its inmates doing time for violent crimes.

While Pelican Bay State Prison is hardly a vacation destination, it had a lot to do with why I was in Brookings. More accurately, I was in an ocean view room at the Best Western Beachfront Inn—what serves as upscale accommodations in Brookings—courtesy of Del Hamner, head honcho of Magic Productions, LLC located clear down at the opposite end of California in Burbank.

I'm writing a motion picture treatment for Hamner based on an actual event at the prison and I'm in Brookings to do background research. It seems a prisoner escaped about five years ago and showed up in Brookings, where he proceeded to terrify the town.

So far, I read what the history books and period newspapers said about the escape. I also toured the prison and familiarized myself with the local geography. Now what I needed was a local point of view—the human experience of having a fellow who has been described as a "crazed murderer" running amuck in a small town.

According to nearly everyone I spoke with, the best source for the background I needed was a young woman named Sharyne Brennan who is officially in charge of the Brookings office of the Western Oregon Visitors Association. Unofficially, she is a leading authority on coastal Oregon history.

When I spoke with her long-distance to make an appointment, Ms. Brennan was both knowledgeable and cooperative. I looked forward to meeting her, which was the first item on my agenda for the day. By the way, I checked—Sharyne is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, which has a long E sound, like Shar•reen'.

You don't have to spend more than a minute or two with Sharyne to know she's a country girl through and through from her blue jeans to her sneakers. I didn't even know they still made Keds.

In addition to being tall and slender with a contagious smile, another of Ms. Brennan's notable features is some Native American among her ancestry. However, that quality is contradicted by bright blue eyes and auburn hair, which is short in what I believe is called a "pixie" cut. Then she throws us a big city curve in the form of a wide blonde streak from the top of her head to her bangs. I kind of hoped the do was indicative of her personality.

Her personal office removes any doubt about Sharyne's enthusiasm for history. Besides more books than had any right to be in a tiny ten-by-twelve SRO space, there were old maps on the walls with many more maps poking out of cardboard tubes. There were also banker's boxes overflowing with black and white photographs on the shelves that weren't already sagging under the weight of books. Being something of a history nut, myself, I could have spent weeks exploring Sharyne's treasures. Yeah, those treasures, too.

When a cheerful young woman who introduced herself as Susie showed me into Sharyne's office, which Susie said was being reorganized, Ms. Brennan was standing in the midst of chaos with a bankers box in her arms and looking up at an empty spot on a shelf well above her head. I said, "If the that box goes in that hole up there, maybe I can help."

Just like that, she turned and handed me the box. "Hello, Mister Radcliff. You're just in time to save me the trouble of scrounging a stepladder. Please be sure the label end of the box faces out."

I slid the box into its slot, and when I turned around, she handed me a nine-by-twelve manila envelope. There were no markings on it, so I asked the obvious question. "What do I have here, Ms. Brennan?"

"It's Sharyne, and what you have there is a photograph of the man you came to talk about, Eric Grover. I had it duplicated from my file copy, so you can keep that one."

"I'm Travis, or Trav if you prefer." We shook hands and I thanked her for the photo as I opened the envelope. Removing the eight-by-ten photo, I was immediately struck by the intensity of the image. For a moment I thought I could actually feel the man's savage fury.

"Damn. This guy couldn't have been as mean as he looks."

"I'm pretty certain he is."

I looked up at her in surprise. "Is? I thought Grover died during his escape attempt."

Sharyne nodded. "According to the official record, he did, but some folks who ought to know the score aren't so sure. For one thing, his body was never recovered."

Staring at the photo in my hand, my mind quickly filled with possibilities Sharyne's revelation brought with it. The possibility that Grover survived changed several aspects of my project, not the least of which was the ending of the screen treatment I was developing. Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, made considerable success out of a mysterious villain who showed a definite inclination toward immortality. Of course, to make use of those possibilities, there had to be some evidence to support the possibility Grover survived the manhunt.

"And I take it you think they might be right."

Sharyne gave her head a thoughtful tilt. "I haven't made up my mind yet, but the arguments supporting his being alive come from knowledgeable local people, some of whom were eyewitnesses and are quite convincing . . . that is if you know the people."

"And, presumably, you know the people."

That got me a smile. "You don't miss much, do you?"

I smiled back. "I try not to. How about giving me kind of a blow-by-blow summary of what happened from the time this guy escaped Pelican Bay until he . . . disappeared?"

"I can do better than that. If it would help, I'll give you a guided tour with the story so you can see the locations where things happened."

"That's more than I could have hoped for."

"Then you've got it. Let's go."

She checked out with Susie, and as we left the building, Sharyne said, "I'm afraid my pickup is in the shop, so we'll have to go in the Association van. That will limit us a little if we need to visit a remote location. Off-roading in these parts is hazardous without lots of ground clearance and four-wheel-drive."

"Maybe we should take my vehicle, then."

Sharyne looked where I pointed and said, "Wow, that's not a new vehicle is it? It looks brand new!"

"Well, she was new back in 1969, but she was well cared for before I got her, and I gave her a complete frame-off restoration, so let's say she's 'sort of' brand new."

"It's beautiful! We shouldn't have any trouble going where we want to go in it, but tell me something. Why do men always refer to cars as females?"

"Not all men do that. My vehicles remind me of people I know. Some are men and some are women. Now, the Scout here has always struck me as female, and since I met you, I sure of it."

Sharyne cocked her head and with a half-smile she asked, "Oh? Why is that?"

"Because the Scout shines up pretty, but she's not afraid to get a little mud on her fenders if the situation calls for it. I'm willing to bet money you and she have those qualities in common."

Sharyne responded with a self-conscious smile that might have said she wasn't comfortable with compliments. On the other hand, she gave as good as she got.

"All right, you smooth talkin' writer guy, let's see you put your money where your mouth is. You gonna let me drive your gal Scout?"

I tossed her the keys. "I was hoping you'd offer."

From the visitor center we headed south through town on Highway 101 and pulled into the parking lot of a Mexican food-to-go place called Cielito Lindo. It's on the east side of the road a short distance north of the highway bridge over the Chetco River that sort of marks what most people think of as the southern boundary of Brookings proper.

Sharyne leaned back in the seat and said, "This is where it all began, at least as far as Brookings is concerned. Back then this was a Conoco station with a convenience market. After what happened here, they decided to move the station on down the highway a block or so."

"And what happened here?"

"According to surviving witnesses, Grover charged into the convenience market waving a revolver and ordering three customers who were in the store to the floor. Grover then made the attendant open the cash register and proceeded to take the paper cash it contained—fifty-seven dollars.

"Next, he demanded to know who owned a white SUV parked outside and got their keys. While Grover was doing that, the attendant shifted position slightly behind the counter. Witnesses say it was not a threatening move, but Grover shot him twice, and then shot the customer, a woman, who owned the SUV, both victims died. After that he took a handful of Twinkies and left."

"A gourmet on top of everything else."

Sharyne made a face, put the Scout in gear, and turned back to the north on the highway. She continued her narrative as we passed at least a dozen antique stores interspersed with dog grooming establishments. "He took the SUV and drove up Highway One-Oh-One like this to Loring's sporting goods store, which is up here on our right."

Two blocks later my guide pulled to the curb in front of a single story green building. "Grover parked behind the store so the SUV was out of sight while he did some shopping. Loring's clerk reported Grover held him at gunpoint and forced him to carry several loads of merchandise out to the SUV.

"In addition to more than a hundred dollars from the register, Grover took a down sleeping bag and other camping paraphernalia, a Remington 870 shotgun, a Marlin .357 magnum carbine, a Glock nine millimeter pistol, and enough ammunition to outfit an army."


"Yeah, I imagine that's what the local cops thought when they finally got on Grover's trail. Remember, though, they were well behind him at this point because they started at the gas station convenience market with two dead bodies and no idea how they got that way.

"When authorities finally realized who they were dealing with, practically every cop and sheriff's deputy in the county was brought in. California also sent several correctional officers from the prison up to help."

"Do they know where Grover went next?"

"Yes. An alert customer saw Grover's picture on a TV news alert about his escape and called in to say she was sure he was the same man who was in front of her in line at the Fred Meyer store half an hour later.

"The cops went to the register lane the woman was in and talked to the clerk. When they showed him a mug shot, he remembered seeing Grover, saying he paid cash for two bags of groceries that were mostly canned and other processed foods that were easy to prepare."

Sharyne pulled into the huge parking lot of the giant Fred Meyer hypermarket that was easily the largest store in Brookings. I said, "Coming here was a smart move on his part. The place is huge, so it's only a matter of bad luck that someone noticed and remembered him."

"I'm sure that's what he was thinking. Also, all of this happened on a Saturday morning, like between ten and eleven, which is when everybody around here does their weekly shopping. The long and the short of it is the Fred Meyer information trimmed Grover's lead by a bunch. Now the cops were only about thirty minutes behind Grover, but then they hit a solid brick wall."

"How did they turn him up again?"

"By helicopter. I'll show you, but this is where things start to get weird."

She pulled out of Fred Meyer's parking lot and took Highway 101 south. At the north end of the Chetco River Bridge, she turned left onto the aptly named North Bank Chetco River Road.

Sharyne continued her story. "The County Sheriff went up looking for the SUV Grover swiped in a rented helicopter and found it the first day they started looking. Grover parked it in plain sight on the property of a residence on this road."

"I guess that proves you have to have more than a mean streak to be a successful bad guy. You need a little common sense. too. I gather he lit out before they could surround the place."

Sharyne shook her head. "He wasn't even that bright. He was apparently prepared for a standoff and he got it. Here we are."

She pulled off onto the unpaved shoulder, saying, "The house was where those smaller trees are now. It burned to the ground during the shootout. The foliage has already filled in the spot so all that's left is a short section of concrete curbing where the driveway was. You can't see it from here because of the trees, but the river is just on the other side of the property."

"Got it. Am I likely to  be shot for trespassing if I get out and look around a little?"

Sharyne laughed. "No worry, paleface. Me heap brave Indian squaw. Me protect white eyes from evil spirits."

I made a face at her, and opening the door, I said, "Okay, Sacagawea, let's go."

Once we were past the shrubbery closest to the road, we were in a jungle. Overhead branches blocked out a lot of light, turning the remaining bits and pieces of debris on the site into trip hazards. Sharyne walked ahead of me and I was impressed with her lightness of step and nimble dodging of obstacles.

As we picked our way along, I asked, "So what makes those folks you mentioned earlier think Grover got away and is still alive?"

Over her shoulder, Sharyne replied, "One of their main arguments is the coroner's inability to identify the body or bodies the police found among this debris. The fire reduced the remains to bones and ashes."

"I understand, but even with nothing but bones, the coroner should have been able to estimate height, weight, and body type. Also dental records should've helped."

"True. The thing is, there should have been two bodies in the debris, Grover and the fellow who owned the house, but the remains they were able to recover were so badly destroyed, the coroner couldn't say for sure whether there were actually two sets of remains. On top of that, there are no dental records available for either man. So the question is, if one of the men didn't die in the shootout and fire, which one was it?"

"I see, and since nobody has seen the owner of the house since, those who think Grover survived figure the remains all belonged to the owner, right?"

Sharyne stopped and turned to face me. "Hey, paleface heap smart feller!"

"Yeah, and fair Injun maiden heap smart ass."

She grinned. "Okay, I had that coming. Sometime, with strangers, I get a little defensive about my Native American heritage."

I grinned back at here. "So I see, but save that for those who don't respect that heritage. I most certainly do."

Her face turned serious. "Thank you, Travis. I appreciate that and apologize for being a brat."

"Your apology is unnecessary, but I accept it anyway. How much further is the river bank?"

Gesturing to the trees and bush ahead, she said, "Just on the other of this foliage. Come on."

Sharyne pushed some branches aside and I found myself on a bluff looking down at the Chetco River bank. The bank stretched hundred-fifty feet or so from the bottom of our bluff to thick brush at the very edge of the river. I estimated the Chetco River at 800 feet wide with a swift current flowing to the right. The highway bridge was also to our right about 200 yards further down. Beyond the bridge on the other side of the river was a marina. Just beyond the marina the river emptied into the ocean.

We scooted down the bluff, and as we walked toward the river, I said, "Do you know if the river current was running this fast when Grover would have been here?"

"Probably. It was about this time of year and the snow pack was feeding it then, just like it is now."

"Well if Grover got this far, he had plenty of options for his getaway, at least on this side of the river. It would take a strong swimmer to get across without being pulled out to the marina and beyond."

Sharyne grinned. "I'm getting the feeling you have joined the ranks of those who think Grover didn't die in that house fire."

Shrugging, I said, "Maybe. They're sure both men were in the house?"

"According to the reports, there was no doubt about that or who they were."

"And what explanation did the police give for the missing body?"

"The cops said they had the property so tightly contained nobody could have slipped away. Also, they claimed the remains they found could have been from two men, even though the coroner couldn't distinguish between them. Finally, they point out that pieces of at least one of the guns Grover stole from Loring's Sporting Goods were among the house debris."

Shaking my head, I said, "I hate to say this, but I think the law enforcement community was doing a lot of wishful thinking that day. In fact, I'm wondering if Grover intentionally left the SUV where it would be seen to set up a gunfight in which everyone would think he died while he disappeared into thin air. I mean, he picked this area for a reason. It might be Grover knew the area and believed he could disappear here."

Sharyne said, "I have to give the cops credit, though, they brought top crime scene investigators in from Sacramento and Salem, and they spent nearly a week looking for explanations. So they tried, sort of."

"Yeah, I have copies of several reports and summaries, but I haven't looked at them yet. I didn't know there was a controversy until today."

"So I did you some good?"

"Absolutely. I am in your debt."

With a playful grin, Sharyne said, "Good. Lunch is on you."

I was loving her spontaneity. "It will be my pleasure. Which way to Mickey D's?"

"Oh no, you don't, mister writer guy! You're taking me to the classiest joint in town."

A few minutes later we had crossed both the Chetco River and Highway 101, and were seated at a table on a wooden deck overlooking the Sporthaven Marina. From Sharyne's description, I was expecting something a little more ritzy, but then I remembered we were in the coastal hinterlands of Oregon and figured I could give up a little ritz for good food.

On Sharyne's recommendation, I ordered a cup of "Award Winning Made From Scratch Clam Chowder" (Boston style) and seafood fajitas, both of which were tasty and expensive. My guest commented on the prices.

"I was kidding about you buying lunch, Travis. These prices are much too high for you to be stuck with the whole lunch tab, so let's go Dutch. I come here because I figure if I'm eating out it's better to pay a little more and get food properly prepared from fresh ingredients."

I said, "I agree with that philosophy, but a deal is a deal. I said I'd buy lunch and that's the way it's going to be."

"I see. I also noticed you've been opening doors for me all morning. Don't tell me you're one of those chauvinist guys."

Feeling as if I'd just been transported back the 1970s, I said, "Sharyne, opening a door for someone—man or woman—is a gesture of respect, and in my book respect is earned. If you hadn't earned my respect, you could open your own damned doors."

Sharyne studied my face for several moments, and then said, "I guess I have a tendency to pigeonhole people, and since you travel in lofty circles, I put you in the box labeled 'slick.' My insecurities are showing. I'm sorry."

"What you're saying is, because I'm from Hollywood, I must be a phony, right?"

She shook her head vehemently. "No. I . . . I didn't mean . . . . Look, I said I'm sorry. Okay?"

"You know, Sharyne, I'm really sad you feel that way because I'm really starting to like you and liking you makes me want to know you better." After a pause during which she looked at her plate and made no response, I said, "Okay, are we done with the crime scenes tour?"

After a hesitation that was long enough to make me think she was trying to make a decision, Sharyne said, "No. There's one more spot. It's not official and you won't find it in any reports, but I want to take you to a spot that may tie into all this. I'll explain on the way, that is, if you want to see it."

Taking the check from the table, I said, "Sure, I want to see everything even remotely connected with Grover."

At the vehicle, Sharyne offered me the keys as if the thought I no longer trusted her with the Scout, but I said, "You know where we're going, you drive."

Sharyne nodded without comment and off we went. Our destination turned out to be a State Park back at the north end of Brookings. We made the short trip in silence.

I wasn't kidding when I told Sharyne I was sad she thought I was "slick." She was quite a woman--one who fascinated and attracted me in ways that were new to me. It wasn't just that she was physically attractive. It was also about the way she thought, her mannerisms, her sense of humor, and a dozen other things. I had the feeling I lost something important over shrimp fajitas at the marina, and that was a shame.

When I saw a sign at the Harris Beach Marine Garden State Park entrance that said there was a five dollar daily parking fee, I reached for my wallet, but Sharyne rolled her window down and spoke to the ranger at the gate. "Hi, Ben. We'll just be here a minute."

Ben said, "Okay, Sharyne. Come back when you can stay for a cup of coffee, okay?"

"Will do, Ben. See you later."

It was obvious from Ben's enthusiasm that he liked Sharyne. I could easily imagine that being a common opinion among the young men of Brookings.

At the end of the entrance road, we came to a fairly large parking circle. It was surprisingly full for a cool overcast weekday. Sharyne guided my Scout into a parking space facing the beach and turned off the engine.

"I want to tell you about two things I think might be related to the Grover case, but they could also be nothing."

I said, "Tell me."

"The first thing happened the day after the shootout and fire at the house on the river. A pickup truck was stolen from Sporthaven Marina where we just had lunch. Back then that sort of thing didn't happen often in Brookings, so it made the newspaper."

"The next day, the missing truck showed up right here in this parking lot. It was abandoned with the keys still in it. I know that's what happened because I was out here dropping off some Visitors Association brochures for the park's information booth and I stopped long enough to have a cup of coffee with Ben, the ranger at the entrance gate."

With a smile on my face and in my voice, I said, "I bet that made his day."

Sharyne turned quickly and looked at me, probably wondering if I was being sarcastic. I wasn't, but I'm not entirely sure she knew that.

Continuing her story, she said, "Anyway, I saw a county tow truck hook up the pickup and Ben explained it was left here overnight, which is strictly against the rules in the day-use part of the park.

"I don't suppose anyone went over the truck for fingerprints."

Again Sharyne looked at me. After a moment, she said, "I wondered the same thing, so I asked a deputy sheriff I know. He just shrugged and said, "The truck had been recovered and wasn't damaged, so there wasn't any reason to make a big deal out of it. They just told the owner not to leave the keys in his truck anymore."

"Too bad."

Nodding, Sharyne said, "I assume you're wondering the same thing as me. Did Eric Grover escape the burning house and steal that truck from the marina down river?"

"Yup. The big question is, if he did, why would he leave it here? Also, how did he get across the river without being seen?"

She swung the door open on her side and said, "He could have waited until dark, and then crossed the river on the highway bridge. That's the only possibility I could think of short of trying to swim over."

"You could be right about that. What is the second thing you want to tell me about?"

"We have to take a short walk for me to tell you about that."

I was following Sharyne to the beach, but stopped to look at a large signboard with all the park rules on it. There were a bunch of them.

Sharyne noticed and said, "Don't worry too much about the rules, it's the squirrels you have to worry about. These little critters will run right up your leg to see if you've got any food. Tourists feed them and that has resulted so many squirrels you can hardly move without stepping on them. They've gotten to be such pests there's talk of rounding them all up and moving them to another location."

As she was saying that, a brown shape with a bushy tail flashed past me just a few inches from my foot. "I see what you mean."

We walked a short distance south on the beach, and then climbed a low hill that gave us a view of the southern-most stretch of Harris Beach. Sharyne stopped and pointed at a large rock outcropping sticking out into the surf.

"See that big rock out there? It's called Arch Rock."

"I see it."

"Do you also see the people on the beach right next to it?"

I looked more closely. "You have good eyes, Ms. Brennan. I didn't see them at first because they blend into the color of the rock behind them. It wasn't until you told me they were there and one of them moved that I actually saw them."

"The reason I brought you to this spot is to put what I'm about to tell you into perspective. I mean, I do have good eyesight and I know how to spot distant objects that are hard to see, but this is still a long shot."

I couldn't help smiling at her. "All right, Sharyne, what did you see out there that might or might not have been what or who you think it was?"

She looked back at me for several seconds, as if she was again deciding whether she should tell me what she thought she saw. Finally, she just said, "Eric Grover."

Still smiling, I said, "I kind of thought that's what you were going to say."

"I ran to my truck for my field glasses, but by the time I got back here, whoever had been out there was gone. Now, I'll admit I have Grover on the brain because he scares the hell out of me, so it's possible I'm forcing pieces of a puzzle into places they don't go, but with the pickup from the marina and all . . . ."

"What you have in your brain is called a hunch, and I like it. I like it a lot."

Sharyne looked surprised. "You do?"

"I do. What time does this beach open?"

She tilted her head in curiosity. "About eight. Why?"

"Tomorrow is Saturday. If you're free, what would you say to finding a spot hereabouts and doing a little surveillance?"

Now she looked dubious. "Really?"

"Sure. I mean I could come out here and do it by myself, but your eyes are better than mine, which would improve our chances of seeing something down there or in the trees inland from the point."

"You think Grover might still be around here after all this time?"

"I think two things. First, I think there's a strong possibility he escaped that fire. Second, I think there is a reason he made a beeline for Brookings as soon as he escaped. I don't know what that reason was, but it's possible he already knew the area and thought it was a good place to disappear. I don't know, but I'm not prepared to walk away from this without at least looking into the possibility he's here or has been here since he supposedly was killed."

"You're also putting a lot of faith in my hunch."

"Sharyne, you're smart, you have skills, and know how to use those skills. Besides, like I told you earlier, you've earned my respect. In my book those things make your hunch at least a possibility. Also, you've been straight about what you've told me, so if I'm betting on the wrong horse, it's my mistake, not yours."

She shook her head, and then just stared at me for several seconds. I said, "Something wrong?"

"Travis, no one has ever treated me the way you do. That respect you talk about is new to me. I'm just not sure how to deal with it."

"Well, I wouldn't worry about it. Pick you up around seven for breakfast?"

I got the idea from her expression that she was making up her mind about something again. After several seconds, she said, "Well, yes, but if you don't have anything else to do, I have tickets to the Brookings Honors Banquet tonight. It's not a big deal, but I'm supposed to receive an award and . . . well . . . ."

While she was searching for words to fit circumstances she didn't encounter often, I gave her a warm smile and helped her off the hook. "Sharyne, if you are inviting me to the banquet, I would enjoy going to the event with you."

She smiled a nervous smile. "It's kind of dressy, so you'd have to wear a suit and tie, but if you don't have one or you'd just rather not, I'll understand. I'm asking because I haven't treated you with nearly the respect you've shown me and I'd like a chance make up for that."

I was watching a grown-up tomboy pouring her heart out. Even if I didn't want to go to her banquet, I owed it to her. Besides, I did want to go. "Well, Ms. Brennan, it so happens I have a suit with me and even a tie, so I would be honored to escort you to the ball."

She looked relieved, happy, and still a little nervous all at once. "Oh, good. Thank you . . . I mean . . . ."

"Are you sure you don't mind arriving at the ball in a pickup truck that's about twice as old as you are?"

Sharyne laughed. "I don't think anyone will be shocked. Besides, it beats the heck out of a pumpkin pulled by mice."

When I thought about it later, her comment about a pumpkin pulled by mice told me some interesting things about my Cinderella. "Then we have a date. What time do I pick you up and where?"

"My apartment is at 600 Pacific Avenue. That's at the corner of Pacific and Fern. There are four two-story apartments in the building and they all have bright red doors. Mine is the door on the far right. The banquet starts at seven and it's at the Chetco Grange Community Center, so if you could pick me up about 6:30, that will get us there with a little time to spare."

"Okay, got it. Fourth red door on the right . . . 600 Pacific . . . six-thirty . . . suit and tie. I'll be there."

I drove her back to the Western Oregon Visitors Association office. As I pulled up to the curb, Sharyne took a quick look toward the building, and then leaned over and kissed my cheek. "That's for putting up with my idiot-synchrasies. See you this evening! Oh, and here's my business card. I wrote my home number on the back in case you come to your senses."

Sharyne closed the passenger door and rushed off toward the building's entrance without a backward look. I think she had just done something totally foreign to her nature, and despite my positive response, her emotions were in an uproar. At least that's the way I read the situation.

<> <> <>

I arrived at the last red door on the right in my dark gray suit and electric blue tie at precisely six-thirty and pushed the doorbell button. Sharyne must have been watching for me, because the door opened almost before I got my finger off the button.

To be honest, I was not expecting the vision that appeared in that open doorway. She was wearing a sleeveless version of the traditional little black dress with two long strands of beads—one pearl gray and one black—and she literally took my breath away.

All I could think to say was, "Wow!"

She smiled widely and cocked her head to one side. "Forgive me, but I'm kind of new at this. Does 'wow' mean you approve?"

"Sort of. More precisely, it means you look absolutely fantastic!"

It was getting dark outside so I couldn't say for sure, but I think Sharyne might have blushed. "Thank you, sir. I just wanted to show you I can be a lady when the situation requires it."

"Of that I had absolutely no doubt. Here's a little gilding for the Lilly."

I'd stopped at a florist on Highway 101 earlier and picked up a white orchid corsage. I handed the clear plastic box to her.

Sharyne took the box and stared at it for what seemed like a long time. During that time her eyes took on a sheen that seemed to forecast tears. I said, "I'm sorry, if flowers are inappropriate, I won't be offended if you don't wear them."

She looked up at me. "Flowers are very appropriate, Travis, and these are beautiful. It's just that . . . well, no one ever gave me flowers of any kind before. I don't even know how to wear these."

"I can help you with that, but the guys in Brookings must be either blind or dumber than dirt."

I pinned the white orchids on her dress, remembering to put them on her right so they wouldn't be crushed if there was any dancing to be done. The flowers added just a light touch of extra style to a woman whose style was a hundred percent natural and original. Then we were off to the ball.

The award Sharyne received actually was kind of a big deal. She was honored as the Brookings Booster of the Year, meaning she had done a lot to attract visitors and promote tourism. That was important because tourism was about all Brookings had going for it.

It was a good thing I remembered which side to put the flowers on because after the awards were handed out and the speechifying was over, there was a lot of dancing to be done to a live band. For a small town event the organizers showed a lot of class. The big surprise was Sharyne's terpsichorean skills. She was an excellent dance partner. We even did a couple of spins, which Sharyne pulled off with the grace of Ginger Rogers. Sadly, I'm no Fred Astaire, but we had fun.

As the evening grew late, the band slowed their pace and the mood shifted to romantic. Holding Sharyne in my arms was a special delight, and best of all, she seemed to think so, too.

Around midnight I pulled up in front of the last red door on the right and held it open for Sharyne. Inside we stood there for a long moment just looking into each other's eyes. It was one of those moments when we both new what was going to happen, and the anticipation was part of the magic.

When our lips met it was a gentle moment that lasted a long sweet time. Then I held her as Sharyne leaned against me. Nether of us said a word. The silence was also part of the magic.

Next came that awkward moment when she was anticipating me wanting to spend the night and her not knowing whether to follow her heart or her head. I suspect Sharyne's head was saying the same thing mine was: Take it slow and treasure the tease of desire.

She looked up at me and her lips parted as if she wanted to say something, but no words came out. This was another of those situations for which life had not yet prepared her.

I kissed her very gently on the forehead and said, "Shar, I want nothing more right now than to hold you in my arms until the sun comes up, but the part of me that thinks about the future is saying, "Wait."

She took a deep breath and sighed. "I know. Part of me is saying the same thing. I can't help thinking you've been to this brink before, maybe more than once, but it's new to me.

"Oh, Ben and I made out a lot when we dated back in high school, but I was afraid to go further. Part of it was I didn't know how to safely go further, and part of it was that silly thing inside all young virgins that says, "Save that special moment for Mister Right."

Her bright blue eyes were fixed on my face and she added, "I honestly think you are the best candidate for Mister Right who's ever come into my life. My grandmother, she raised me from a child, told me something about that once and I've never forgotten it."

"What did she tell you?"

"She said, 'The Great Spirit makes a perfect mate for each of us. When you meet your mate, the Great Spirit will tell you.'

"It might be wishful thinking, but I think He is telling me to pay particular attention to you because you are so different and special in the ways you treat me. I don't want to scare you away, but I hope with all my heart the Great Spirit meant us for each other."

Then Sharyne shook her head. "I apologize. I'm babbling now. You don't want to hear that nonsense."

"Shar, what you're saying is not nonsense, it's good sense. If your grandmother is still around, I would like very much to meet her."

"Sadly Grandmother is gone, but her spirit still lives in my heart and she speaks to me often. This is one of those times, and I must listen to her."

"Darling, please do me a favor and listen to her for both of us. She was a wise woman, and I could use more wisdom in my life."

Looking at me in a way that made me feel adored, Sharyne said, "I will darling, I promise."

"Thank you. Now, as the old song goes, 'Give me a kiss to build a dream on,' and go tuck yourself in bed. We have an early date for breakfast tomorrow."

I would not have guessed it possible, but our second kiss was even more intense than the first, but in a very different way. The first kiss was between two people who barely knew each other. The second one seemed meant for two people who belonged to each other.

Saturday, November 17, 2018 <> Brookings, Oregon

Saturday morning I knocked on the last red door to the right and was greeted with a smile, a kiss, and the words, "Dv-laa-ha," which she pronounced, "Duh-lah-hah."

"Well, the same to you!"

She gave me an even larger smile and said, "That means, 'Hello, it is good to see you, darling," in Tolowa lingo." After a short pause, Sharyne added, "Well, I added the 'darling' part. I don't know if there is a Tolowa word for darling because I've never needed one before.'

We piled into the Scout and got moving. It was chilly and overcast, making us appreciate the Scout's efficient heater. This trip I was doing the driving and Sharyne was cuddled up right next to me. That felt even better than the Scout's heater.

My guide directed me to The Blue Pacific Café and Lounge, located in a shopping center just off Highway 101 less than half a mile south of the Chetco River. Sharyne said it wasn't the best breakfast place in town, but it had the advantage of being open early.

The hostess who greeted us turned out to be an old high school acquaintance of Sharyne's. She said, "Hey, Sharyne! I haven't seen you practically since we graduated. Come by sometime and we'll catch up."

"Sure, Carole, I'll do that."

Carole was the cheerleader type, an attractive and stacked blonde who was already beginning to show signs of wear around the edges. I also noticed she seemed to be looking at me more than Shar during their brief conversation.

When we were seated, Shar said, "Forgive me for not introducing you, but despite her old-school-chum act, Carole and I were never close. She was one of the rich kids and, of course, I was not. Back then she wouldn't give me the time of day. Now, however, it seems my stock has gone up." She laughed and added, "I think you might have something to do with that. Did you notice the way she was looking at you?"

"Yeah, I also noticed her pasty complexion and elastic stretched to its breaking point. I suspect she's spending more time than is healthy at the local watering holes."

"Say, you're pretty good at this observation stuff. You're absolutely right. Carole married her high school sweetheart and within a few years she caught him in bed with another man. That has to be the ultimate humiliation for any woman. They split up and she's been going downhill ever since."

"She needs a spirit grandmother in her heart."

Shar looked at me for several seconds without saying anything, which was becoming a regular thing with her. I didn't mind. I took it as a signal she was contemplating the significance of an event or a comment.

Finally, still looking into my eyes, she said, "You remembered that. I don't think most people would. It is something very personal and important to me, and that you remember what I said means a lot to me."

"Of course, I remember. Most of what you say makes an impression on me."

"And you don't think I'm silly for saying such things?"

"Silliness never crossed my mind."

She cocked her head to one side and said, "Gosh I'm glad you are part of my life."

I smiled at her. "The feeling is intensely mutual."

After a reasonably decent breakfast, I pointed us back up to Harris Beach. Ben was at the entrance and his expression definitely soured when he recognized the Scout from the day before, saw me in the driver seat, and Sharyne sitting as close to me as she could without being in my lap. I got the idea she was sending him a not so subtle message. That was fine with me.

Ben was very formal and official. "Good morning, sir. Are you planning to be here for just the day or a longer stay?"

"Just for the day. Maybe only a few hours."

"The daily parking fee is five dollars."

I handed him a five. He took it and gave me a ticket with the date on it. "Please leave this in your windshield while you're here. Have a nice visit."

He was trying so hard to be all business I couldn't help smiling. "Thank you, Ben."

In the rearview mirror I watched Ben standing next to the entrance shack watching us drive away. "I think you just broke that boy's heart."

"We're just friends. We haven't dated for several years."

"I have the distinct feeling he was hoping to change that situation."

From the corner of my eye I saw Sharyne shake her head. "That wasn't going to happen. The only thing Ben and I ever had in common were cases of raging teenage hormones. I never considered Ben a soulmate candidate. I told him so, but I guess he was hoping I'd change my mind."

The day use parking area was empty when I pulled into the same parking place we used the day before. We sat there for a few minutes studying our surroundings through windows that were collecting a fine mist, and then I reached under the driver seat and clicked the latch on metal box bolted to the floorboards.

From the box I removed a Smith & Wesson Police Model 60 revolver. The box also contained a shoulder holster for the revolver, an Oregon non-resident concealed carry permit, and a flip-open badge case. I left the shoulder holster in the box.

Shar stared at the revolver with a frown wrinkling her forehead. "Travis, why do you have a pistol in your car?"

"Shar, the world I live in is not as easy going and crime-free as Brookings. The revolver is legit and I am well trained in its use. I have both California resident and Oregon nonresident concealed carry permits. I also have a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Volunteer Deputy badge, which makes me a law enforcement officer of sorts.

She gave me another of her long looks. "Do you really think we might need that thing?"

I flipped the revolver open and checked the cylinders. "No, I don't. I'm hoping we aren't even going to get close enough to Grover that we need a weapon of any kind, but what I hope and what life has in store aren't always the same. Besides, that all assumes Grover is actually still here."

"If he ever was here."

"If you think you saw him, he was here."

Sharyne smiled. "There you go believing in my hunches again. I warned you about that."

"Yes, you did. There are field glasses in the glove compartment. Let's take 'em along and get into position."

We found a couple of rocks near the spot we visited the day before. They were just up from the edge of the beach and well concealed in a dense tangle of underbrush. We sat and began visually scanning the area around Arch Rock for signs of life.

Next we scanned the hill behind Arch Rock. When that effort gained us nothing, Shar and I split the area into two parts. She watched the vegetation above Arch Rock and I took the beach between us and the rock.

There was a steady mist falling, and even though we were dressed for the weather, we were still getting damp. That was when the notion we were on a fool's mission began nagging at me. I glanced at my watch. We'd only been there about 45 minutes. Even so, I began thinking about how much longer we should stay.

That was when I heard Shar whispering. We were quite a ways from the surf noise, so I could clearly hear her say, "Trav, there's someone behind us. I think they're about a hundred feet away and trying to move very quietly through the brush."

Since an innocent visitor to the beach wasn't likely to be sneaking up on us, that meant trouble. I said quietly, "On the count of three let's slide forward to the ground and put these rocks between us and whoever is back there. You count."

Without hesitation, Shar quietly counted off, "One . . . two . . . three."

At the precise moment she said "three," the crack of a high powered rifle shattered the air around us. Then we were on the ground and I was turning around as I got the Smith & Wesson out of my coat pocket. I raised it and saw Eric Grover nearly directly in line with the pistol's single barrel sight. I shifted my aim no more than a quarter of an inch and fired twice."

At the moment I fired Grover was raising his rifle, the Marlin .357 magnum carbine he'd taken from Loring's Sporting Goods. He stopped raising it and stared at me peaking over the top of our rock. He looked confused. I was tightening my trigger finger to fire again when Grover dropped to the ground like a sack of dirty laundry.

I saw the rifle fall with him and decided priority number one was making sure he couldn't use that rifle again. I vaulted over the rock, covering the underbrush between us in seconds.

Kicking the rifle out of Grover's reach, I aimed the Smith & Wesson at his chest. From the way he fell, I was pretty sure Eric Grover had already met his maker, but I wasn't taking any chances. Seeing no signs of life, I cautiously reached for his neck and looked for a pulse. If there was one, it was so weak I couldn't find it.

I stood up and over the sound of my pounding heart I heard a racket I hadn't noticed until that moment. It was a siren. Looking up toward the parking access road, I saw a green pickup truck with the shield of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department on its door. As Ben jumped out, another realization of vital importance struck me: Sharyne had not moved since we slid to the ground on the count of three.

I ran to the rock and looked at Shar. She wasn't moving and there was a hole in the back of her jacket just below the collar. I anxiously felt for a pulse and was relieved to find one. It was weak, but definitely there.

I stood up and saw Ben looking down at Grover's body. With surprise, he said, "Hey, this is that Grover guy."

I said, "Yeah, but that doesn't matter right now. He shot Sharyne. Do you have a radio in that truck?"

Ben may not have been Shar's soulmate, but he knew how to deal with a crisis. "Yes. I'll get an ambulance."

He ran up the hill to his truck and I watched him talking into the microphone. From that point on things are pretty much a blur.

What I do recall distinctly is the ambulance arrived very quickly, followed by two white Curry County Sheriff's Dodge Chargers and an Oregon State Trooper in an SUV. The ambulance paramedics immediately loaded Sharyne on a litter and took her to their truck. They wasted no time on Grover. It was obvious to them he belonged to the coroner now.

With the ambulance on its way, more sheriff cars arrived and the mood at the scene of the murder was downright celebratory. I showed the senior deputy my ID, permit, and tried to give him my Smith & Wesson. He didn't want it.

"That's okay, Mister Radcliff. You keep it. If we need it for forensics or something, we'll let you know. All I need from you is a statement as to what happened and how you nailed Grover there.

It was more like he was a movie fan meeting a celebrity than a police office taking a witness statement. He pulled a small digital recorder out of his pocket. "I'm gonna tape this if you don't mind. That way I can type up a more complete report and . . . ."

Deciding to see how much slack they would cut me, I interrupted the deputy. "Would it be possible for you to take my statement at the hospital where that ambulance is headed?"

He looked confused. "Are you injured?"

"No, but the woman in the back of that ambulance is very important to me."

"Sharyne? Sure, I didn't realize . . . come on I'll take you there in my cruiser."

"Would you mind if I drove my pickup. I don't feel comfortable leaving it here."

He looked at the Scout and said, "I understand. That's a beauty. Come on, I'll escort you."

I got into the Scout and secured my Smith & Wesson while the senior deputy spoke with his cohort. Then he pulled up next to me in his cruiser and we were off code three. I had to give the Scout's little six-cylinder engine just about all the throttle it had to keep up. The deputy clearly understood the urgency I felt.

The Curry County Medical Center wasn't far. It's just north of the Brookings Police Department, which is just north of Highway 101 where it passes the Fred Meyer store.

The deputy met me at the door, offering his hand. "By the way, I'm Sergeant Bobby Collier. Follow me, I'll get us past the red tape."

Two minutes later Deputy Collier and I were at a nursing station listening to a nurse whose nametag said "Ruth" report on Shar's condition. She said, "The wound is quite serious, but the doctor thinks Sharyne has a reasonable chance of survival."

The nurse glanced at her watch. "They're just prepping her for surgery now. The surgeon is on route from his home, which is close by. As soon as he gets here they'll  go right to work fixing her up."

"Is she conscious?"

Shaking her head, Nurse Ruth said, "No, she's still out, but part of that is due to drugs they administered to keep her quiet and stable. For the record are you family?"

"Only if you folks manage to save her. If you do, I plan on becoming her husband."

Ruth grinned a big grin. "You and Sharyne? That's wonderful! Don't worry, we'll save your bride! She means a lot to all  of us, too."

Deputy Collier and I sat in an empty surgery waiting room and I said, "Deputy, I really want to thank you for your courtesy. In Los Angeles County I'd have been stuck in an office for hours answering questions and filling out forms."

"You're very welcome, Mister Radcliff. Like Ruth said, Sharyne is a good friend who means a lot to us. Now, is it alright with you if we get the facts together for a report on how you bagged Public Enemy Number One?"

He pressed a switch on his little digital recorder and I said, "I think the first thing you need to know is Sharyne is the one who provided the details that gave me an inkling Grover might be near Harris Beach.

"She noticed that a white pickup truck stolen from the marina just down river from the house in which Grover was supposed to have been killed showed up at Harris Beach two days after the shootout at the house on the river. More recently she was taking a walk at Harris Beach and thought she saw Grover out by Arch Rock."

Collier was surprised. "No kidding?"

"No kidding. So putting all the pieces together Shar and I decided to sort of stake out the south end of Harris Beach for a while and see what we could see."

The deputy said, "You know if it was anyone else saying they saw Grover out there to anyone other than you, I'm afraid her observation would have been ignored. You must have a lot of faith in that girl."

"I do, deputy. I know she is well liked, but I don't think most folks appreciate how bright she really is."

"Well, after what you've told me, I certainly have a new respect for her."

"Ya know, it would do wonders for her ego if you ever have a chance to tell her that. Anyway, we'd been sitting out there in the mist on a large rock in the underbrush for about 45 minutes when Sharyne whispered she heard someone sneaking up behind us.

"We counted to three and dropped behind the rock, but on the word 'three,' Grover fired that big three-fifty-seven magnum carbine. He hit Sharyne high in the back, just below the collar."


"Fortunately, I didn't know that right away or it surely would have distracted me from shooting Grover, which I did while he was lining up to shoot me. I believe I put two rounds into his chest, but you can verify that with the coroner. The weapon I used is a point-three-eight caliber Smith & Wesson Police Model 60 revolver."

We spent the rest of an hour going over details of the morning's events, including the information about how I happened to have the Smith & Wesson and my status as a LA County volunteer sheriff's deputy. As a screenwriter I've observed many law enforcement officers, and Deputy Collier was damned good at his job. He got the facts and subtleties needed for a thorough and comprehensive incident report without a lot of officious posturing.

When he clicked off his little digital recorder, Collier said, "Do you know where you are likely to be for the next month or so?"

"Deputy, as long as Sharyne is in Brookings, that's where I'll be."

"I kind of figured that. I don't know if you'll need to testify at the coroner's inquest or not. Your signed statement may be all they need. I . . . ."

"Hi, Bobby, is this the famous Mister Radcliff?"

Deputy Collier jumped up. "Yes, sir, Doctor Baxter."

We'd been interrupted by a tall slender fellow who wore green scrubs, a thin mustache, and made me think of Vincent Price. Deputy Collier introduced us. "Mister Radcliff, meet Doctor Baxter. Doc, meet Mister Radcliff."

I stood and shook the hand he offered and Baxter said, "I understand you have a special interest in Miss Brennan, or Sharyne as we all know her."

"I do, doctor. Even if we were not close otherwise, one tends to have a soft spot in their heart for someone who saves their life."

He looked surprised. "Really? Well, you'll be happy to know we successfully removed the bullet from her spine and found very little additional damage. We sewed her up and barring some really unexpected complication, Sharyne will be on her feet in just a few days."

I shook his hand again. "Thank you, Doctor Baxter. Thank you very much. When will I be able so see her?"

The doctor looked at his watch and said, "She'll be in recovery for at least another hour. I think we can probably let you in for a short visit around one."

After Doctor Baxter left, Deputy Collier and I did a celebratory high five. I said, "Deputy, if you're up for lunch, I'm buyin'."

Bobby Collier asked for a rain check. He needed to go back and check on the crime scene, and then get his reports typed up. I told him he could collect on that rain check any time. That left me on my own for lunch, so I followed the signs to the Medical Center's cafeteria.

I wasn't terribly hungry, partly because I ate a larger than usual breakfast and partly because killing a man is hard on the appetite. The only things that appealed were a banana and a cup of coffee.

I'd no sooner seated myself at one of the cafeteria's small tables when Nurse Ruth showed up with a salad on her tray and asked if she could join me. I couldn't think of a good reason why she shouldn't, so I stood and pulled the chair out for her.

"Thank you, Mister Radcliff. Among other things, I noticed you were a real gentleman at the Banquet last night. That particular trait is one that stands out in a place liking Brookings."

Not particularly wanting to venture further into the realm of my gentlemanliness, I said, "The Brookings Honors folks put on a nice party. I enjoyed myself."

"Yes they do. Of course, whether you knew it or not, you were a center of attention. Everybody was talking about how Sharyne had done very well in catching herself a movie writer from Hollywood."

I looked at her for several seconds, a trick I learned from a certain young woman of my acquaintance. "Nurse Ruth, I'm afraid you have it backwards. It was I who worked very hard at catching myself a wonderful woman. Folks around here may take Shar for granted, but where I come from a woman like her is worth at least ten gorgeous starlets."

It was her turn to stare for a few seconds. "Well, I'll be. I think you might be worthy of Sharyne after all. A lot of folks were wondering why she was paying the slightest attention to a show business fellow from Hollywood, but I'm beginning to see the reason. I never should have doubted Sharyne's judgment."

"If that was intended as a compliment, I accept it with gratitude."

"Mister Radcliff, it was more than a compliment. It was also an apology. I've behaved frightfully. I hope you will forgive me. My only excuse is that Sharyne is one of our treasures and we protect people like her. I only hope you won't be taking her away."

"Ruth, if I may be so informal, I'm pretty sure Shar would live in Los Angeles if I asked her. I also know she would hate it. Come to think of it, I hate it. She belongs in a wide open world with blue skies, tall green trees, and waves crashing on rocks—a place like Brookings. I'm beginning to think I do too.

She clapped her hands a couple of times. "Bravo! I think you belong here, too."

"Now, if you'll forgive me, it's almost one and Doctor Baxter thought Shar might be moved to a room where I could see her about now."

"Oh, I could use the in-house phone to find out for you."

I smiled what I hoped was a kindly smile. "Thank you, Ruth, but I need to move around a little anyway. I'll see you later. Thank you for the conversation."

As I walked away, I reminded myself living in a small town has its drawbacks, too. One is that everybody knows your business and folks aren't hesitant about sticking their noses into it.

At the surgery nursing station, an older woman with a kind smile checked and informed me I could see Shar for a short time. No one else, however, would be allowed to see her for a day or two.

Following the directions I was given, I located room S102 and peeked in. Shar was in bed on her side and facing the door. A big smile appeared the minute she saw my face.

Her voice was still a little raspy from a breathing tube or something like it they used during the surgery, but I could understand her just fine. "Travis! Gosh, I'm so glad to see you!"

Standing next to her bed, I took her hand, and then leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. "I'm pretty darn glad to see you, too. For a while there back at the beach, I was afraid I'd lost the most special woman in the whole world."

"When I woke up, I thought the same about you. I mean I thought I'd lost the most special man in the world. The strange thing is, as I drifted in and out of consciousness, I thought about my grandmother and a calmness settled over me as if she was telling me not to worry everything was okay.

"A little later Doctor Baxter came in and talked to me. Of course, my first question was about you. He told me he'd just spoken with you and you were fine . . . and a hero besides. Tell me what I missed out there."

"How about I give you the condensed version now because I have something else to tell you and they're gonna run me out of here pretty soon so you can rest. The bottom line is your good hearing saved both our lives because the person you heard sneaking up on us was Grover.

"He must have spotted us out there and thought we saw him. I can't think of any other reason he would want to kill us. Anyway, he shot you just as we ducked and, as I peeked over the top of our rock, he lined up to shoot me, but I was a little quicker. Eric Grover is confirmed dead."

"Whew, that will be a relief to the whole town when they hear it, even though most thought or hoped he was already dead."

"I think most of the town already knows about what happened out there. News travels fast around here."

I got a beautiful smile. That reminded me what else I wanted to tell her. "Shar, I want you to pay close attention for just a moment, because I'm about to say what could be the most important thing I ever say and I want to know you are clear about it."

Her smile turned into a frown of concern. "I'm listening."

I took a deep breath and said, "Shar, I love you. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I'm telling you now so you can prepare to be swept off your feet until you agree to marry me."

The beautiful smile returned. "Oh, Trav, I love you, too. I know it just like you know you love me, and just in case you expect me to say yes when you propose, Harbrook Jewelers in the Harbor Shopping Center is the best jeweler in town, but I think they're closed on Sunday and Monday, so you have time to come to your senses."

"The funny thing is, for one of the first times in my life I feel like I have come to my senses."

"That's wonderful, darling. We have so much to plan, like where we want to live and how many kids and . . . just everything!"

On that note a nurse I didn't know walked in. She studied the vital signs monitor screen next to the bed and made a note on her clipboard. "Hmm. Heart rate is a little elevated."

Shar said, "I'm not surprised, Jan. Your pulse might go up a little, too, if the love of your life just asked you to marry him."

Jan looked at Shar, and then looked at me. "Is that so? Well, Mister Radcliff, hero or not, you must stop exciting my patient. Now scoot on out of here. You can come back around dinner time, six o'clock. If you promise to behave yourself I'll even order you a dinner tray."

I said, "Thank you, Jan," and leaned over the bed to give Shar a kiss.

The kiss lasted a little longer than Nurse Jan thought appropriate. "Mister Radcliff! I said you have to behave yourself. Now go or I'll call security."

I winked at Shar. "I'm going, I'm going. Dang they've got crotchety nurses in this place."

As I went out the door, Nurse Jan said, "If you don't stop exciting my patient, I'll show you real crotchety!"

Thursday, November 22, 2018 <> Brookings, Oregon

I divided the next few days of my life between sitting with Shar and developing the film treatment I was in Brookings to write. It took me a while to get a handle on it. In the end, I decided on an approach that saw the events of Eric Grover's escape and time in Brookings through the eyes of a young Native American woman. In writing, the obvious isn't always obvious.

I took a few liberties with details here and there, but I was writing a theatrical film, not a documentary. When it was done, rereading the treatment convinced me I made the right choice. I substituted a sheriff's deputy for myself in the shootout scene, but the Sharyne character was clearly the heroine of the story. Shar was an excellent prototype heroine.

Besides writing and spending time with Shar, I ran some errands, did some shopping, and collected Sharyne's mail and put it on her kitchen counter. I was a busy guy.

As Shar improved, she became more and more frustrated, She felt pretty good and wanted to get out of the medical center and back into the real world, but Doctor Baxter insisted she stay put until Thursday morning. I was glad her hospital room windows did not open. If they had, I think Shar would have tied her bed sheets together and climbed three floors.

The Medical Center's food was about the only saving grace from the patient's point of view. Shar found it both tasty and appropriate to her healthy eating habits. I even found the healthy parts edible on those occasions when I joined her for a meal.

It also turned out that hanging around Shar's hospital room was a great way to meet a large part of Brookings' population. On average she had five or six visitors a day, and after a few days there were so many flowers in her room the bed was lost among the foliage. Shar asked the nursing staff to spread the floral cheer by taking about half of the arrangements to brighten the rooms of other patients.

Tuesday was a red letter day. Doctor Baxter ordered Sharyne out of bed with instructions to walk around the medical center and get some exercise. I walked with her on some of those outings and I was darn near running to keep up with her, and she was pushing a wobbly IV stand.

Despite a spell of cool weather, her favorite haunt was the outdoor cafeteria seating area. Nurse Jan provided a small blanket Shar put over her shoulders for such arctic adventures.

Wednesday night Susie and I were dispatched to Shar's apartment with specific instructions on what clothes to bring back for her medical center departure on Thursday. She was not going to celebrate her departure in dirty clothes, especially a top and a jacket with bullet holes in them. To solve that dilemma, we also stopped at Fred Meyer's gigantic store and Susie picked out a colorful warm knit sweater to replace the jacket for the occasion.

Thursday morning Sharyne took a shower with Nurse Jan's help to keep the dressing dry. Next step was donning the outfit I brought from her apartment. After that it was breakfast time.

Finally Doctor Baxter showed up and cut Shar loose. Her smile on hearing that news was almost as big as the one I got when I arrived.

In her new sweater and with her arm tucked through mine, Sharyne and I headed for my Scout in the medical center parking lot. I opened the passenger door prepared to help her climb into the seat, but she scampered up before I could offer her a hand.

From the seat, Shar looked down and smiled. "I sure love you this morning, Mister Radcliff."

"Oh, I bet you say that to all the boys you're engaged to."

Putting on a insulted expression, Shar said, "I do not! Besides, we are not officially engaged. I believe something was said about a ring, which I have yet to see."

I snapped my fingers as if suddenly remembering about the ring. "That's right. I must get around to doing something about that.

By that time in our relationship, Sharyne could tell when I was kidding her. She glowered at me. "Darn right you'd better do something about that. I bet Ben wouldn't take that long to find a ring."

I made a face and closed the door. Climbing into the driver seat I started the Scout and headed for Shar's apartment. We had detailed plans for this day and I was following them to the letter.

At her apartment Shar checked the mail I'd carefully stacked on her kitchen counter. After that, I got a suitcase down from her closet shelf and she proceeded to pack a few days' clothes. When she was nearly done, I noticed her black dress was still in the closet.

I called her attention to it, saying, "Don't you think you should pack that, too?"

Shar looked at the dress and then back at me. With suspicion in her voice, she said, "I should? I thought I was going to your hotel to recuperate, not to party."

I shrugged. "It's up to you. I'm just a firm believer in being prepared for every eventuality."

Carefully folding the dress to fit in the suitcase, she gave me a sly look. "Regular little Boy Scout aren't you?"

Finally, she put a very sexy black silk negligee' into the bag. Before closing the suitcase, she turned to see if I noticed the skimpy black garment she just packed. She could tell I had and simply said, "It goes well with engagement rings."

I carried her bag out to the Scout while she locked the fourth red door on the right. Our next stop was the Beachfront Inn in the harbor area south of the Chetco River. For propriety's sake and Sharyne's comfort, I had moved out of my old room and into a two-room suite.

By this time the desk clerk and I were old pals. He greeted us warmly and we headed for the elevator. Since he didn't greet Sharyne like a long-lost cousin, I thought I might have found the only person in Brookings who wasn't on a first name basis with her.

Exiting the elevator on the third floor, I directed Shar to the left and we walked to Room 312 at the end of the hall. I opened the door and we entered our private sanctuary.

Shar took a look around and said, "This is very nice. I've been to functions here, but this is the first time I've actually been in one of their rooms. Certainly nobody could ever ask for a better view.

Pointing to the connecting door, I said, "That's where you bed down, unless you'd rather have this room, in which case I can sleep in there."

Shar looked through the connecting door. "This looks fine," and then she walked over to me and gently put her arms around me. She still had some tenderness in her upper back and shoulders.

"Travis, I want you to know how much I appreciate the way you've taken care of me since I was . . . hurt. Like this room. A lot of men in this situation would have just gotten one room and expected me to go along with the sleeping arrangements. Now, I might actually like to try sleeping together, but this way the choice is mine. That's respect on the most personal level and I love you for it."

"This just seemed like the right thing to do so you would have privacy, but I could still be close by if you needed anything."

We kissed. It was a gentle sweet kiss that said "I love you" more than "I want you."

With my arms still around her waist, I said, "What's next on the agenda?"

"I think I could use some rest. In my hurry to get out of the medical center, I may have over estimated my stamina a little. Would that be okay?"

"That would be fine."

Concern wrinkled her forehead a little. "Will you be here?"

"Absolutely. There is no place I need to be but here with you."

"Then would it be okay if I stretched out on one of those chase lounges on our balcony? I would like to enjoy the fresh air and still know you're nearby."

Suddenly I realized something that hadn't occurred to me before. "Shar, have you been experiencing nightmares about what happened?"

She looked down like a kid caught with one hand in the cookie jar. "Yes, Travis. How did you know?"

"It's a perfectly natural reaction to what we experienced. When you have another one, yell out. One of my jobs here is nightmare exterminator."

Sharyne looked up into my eyes and said, "Add another item to the list of reasons I love you more and more every day."

I laughed. "Will do. Now go get comfy on the balcony. By the way, If you get thirsty, there are bottles of water and fruit juice in the fridge."

Ten minutes later I looked up from my laptop to see Shar already sleeping soundly on our balcony. It was a beautiful day out there with the sun making sparkles on the water and soft breezes blowing ozone in our direction. After a while, I succumbed to the temptation, and reclined on the chaise lounge next to hers.

When I woke up Sharyne was still next to me, but her hand was holding mine. That felt good, but a heavy cloud cover was moving in from the northwest and blocking the warming rays of the sun. It was getting downright chilly.

I sat up and kissed Shar on the forehead. Her eyes opened slowly. "Mmm . . . what a wonderful way to wake up."

"I hated to wake you , but there's a storm moving in, or at least some heavy clouds."

She shivered. "I can tell. It certainly cooled quickly."

Pushing the sliding door to our balcony closed behind her I asked, "Do you think you could use some lunch? It's nearly one."

Nodding, she said, "Yes, I think I could. Does the hotel have a restaurant?"

"No, but they use a seafood place across the street for room service. I've had a couple of meals sent up and they were pretty good."

"Oh, The Grotto. Yes, their food is good. Do you have one of their menus?"

"Sure do. Look over there on that little table under the TV screen."

Shar asked for a small shrimp Louie and I ordered a bowl of Boston chowder. From there, the afternoon just sort of drifted by with me at my laptop and Shar looking over my shoulder to see what a writer actually does. We also watched giant drops of water make little craters in the beach and Sharyne took another nap on the couch. After all that excitement, we watched an American Plains Indian documentary on the Discovery channel.

Around nine-thirty I gave Sharyne a hug and a goodnight kiss at the door to her room. I closed the door after her, but a minute later the door reopened and Shar asked, "Will it bother you if I leave this door open?"

"Not at all. I just thought you might appreciate a little privacy."

Tilting her head to one side, Shar looked at me. "Travis, do you really intend to marry me?"

Wondering why she chose that moment to ask such a question, I said, "Absolutely."

"Then you need to forget about privacy, darling, and I know we aren't married yet, but we might as well get used to what living together is like."

Friday, November 23, 2018 <> Brookings, Oregon

As it turned out, leaving the door open was a good idea. Around two in the morning a moan from Shar's room woke me. I jumped out of bed, but by the time I got through the connecting door, the moan turned into a scream.

I ran to Shar's bed and gently shook her. When her eyes first popped open, she cringed away from me for a second, but then reached for me with both hands. "Oh, Travis. It was terrible! Grover kept shooting you and I couldn't make him stop!"

Sitting on the edge of her bed, I said, "You can relax now, darling. You know that was a nightmare and it's over now. Nothing is going to hurt us."

Sometimes nightmares are worse than real life, and this one left her sobbing. I stretched out next to her and held Shar in my arms until she began to relax and her sobs quieted.

When I woke up again sunlight was streaming through a gap in the window curtains and Shar was laying half on top of me with her head on my chest. She wore a sleep shirt to bed and it was hiked up far enough to offer a display of two long, shapely legs from hip to toe.

I gently kissed her forehead. Shar's eyes opened slowly and it seemed to take several seconds for her to comprehend that we were not only in bed together, but we were entangled in an embrace that was tempting the hell out of me. It was clear she was feeling the same temptation.

Shar skootched up a little and kissed me on the lips. It didn't take long before that kiss and her position were having a physical effect of me. She pressed herself closer to me and I said, "Shar, not yet darling. There's still that matter of a ring."

She propped herself up on one elbow. "Whose fault is that?"

Before I could say it was my fault, she pressed the inside of her right thigh harder against me and when she felt what was happening there, Shar put on a big grin and asked, "Does that mean I turn you on?"

When I didn't answer right away, she giggled gleefully. "It does! It does! Gosh, I'm glad I turn you on. It would be awful if I didn’t!"

I slid my leg out from under hers and started to get up, which made the male physical reaction on which she was focused even more obvious under the shorts I sleep in. Shar giggled. "Oh, my! I did that? And I did it without even trying." Then adding an erotic tone to her voice, she said, "It makes me wonder what would happen if I put some effort into it."

I made a face at her. "Trust me, you don't need to put any more effort into it."

She smiled. "But I want to be the best for you."

"You're already that and then some.

Shar grinned. "Are you sure you don't want to come back to bed?"

"You're only saying that because you know I won't."

Her smile got even bigger. "Try me!"

After a light breakfast at The Grotto we took a walk on the beach. The storm passed during the night and the sun was warming the air nicely.



"I'm sorry for what I put you through this morning. I was in a playful mood, but I was being more than playful. I know we have sort of an agreement about sex, but waking up in your arms and . . . well, like that, is more temptation than I can handle in my weakened state."

I smiled at the last part. "Shar, you have no weakened state. You're pure vixen through and through, and you came very close to getting something else through and through."

She stopped and look up into my eyes. "I know. And you know what else I know?"

"Tell me."

"If you had come back to bed I'd have given myself to you without hesitation. I feel I know you so well now, and I feel so good about who you are that even the idea of losing my . . . you know . . . to you doesn't scare me in the slightest.

"I know without any doubt I can count on you to do what's best for both of us, and if it comes to a choice between what's best for you and what's best for me, you've already proven . . . well, that I come first. A woman could ask for nothing more in a husband."

I may have blushed a little, but I managed to say, "That is my idea of what loving someone means. It's probably old fashioned these days, but if you can't trust me, why on earth would you want to be my wife."

A momentary frown crossed Shar's face. "But do you feel you can trust me, darling?"

"Hell, I knew that the minute I met you that day in your office. Even then I knew I could trust anything you said to me. Do you remember when handed me that cardboard box to put up on the shelf?"

Shar nodded and I said, "I think that was the moment I knew you were a very special person. It was the first time I saw your face and heard your voice. That's all it took."

She looked surprised. "Really? That particular moment?"

"I think so."

All she said was a soft "Wow."

The rest of Friday passed in kind of a lazy haze, but I watched Shar closely to signs of fatigue. I'd put some big plans in motion, and I hoped she would be up to the excitement. By five that afternoon, I decided the show would go on.

She was stretched out on the couch reading one of my scripts I'd given her so she could better understand what I do. I walked over and sat on the arm of the couch.


"Yes, darling?"

"Do you remember what you were saying this morning about trusting me?"

"Of course."

"Then, if I asked you to do a couple of things without any explanation, would you do what I asked?"

Now I had a hundred percent of her attention. A smile was tugging at the edges of her lips as she said, "I would."

"Good. Please go and get yourself all gussied up in that sexy black dress."

One of the things about Sharyne I'd learned is that when something makes her curious or puzzles her, she tilts her head to one side. She tilted and said, "Sexy black dress, huh?"

Handing me the script she'd been reading, Shar said, "Okay, Mister, one gussied up Indian girl in a sexy black dress, coming up. It'll take a little time, though."

I smiled. "No hurry."

"And you know that bandage on my back is going to show, don't you?"

I nodded. "Think of it as a badge of courage. Besides, nobody is going to be looking at your back."

While she took a shower and changed, I did the same, putting on my dark gray suit. While at Fred Meyer buying her sweater, I also picked out a bright red tie. I put it on instead of the blue one.

I'd just looked at my watch, noting that the time was going on six, when Shar made a grand entrance through the connecting door. Just as the first time I saw her in that black dress, she took my breath away.

She grinned widely. "May I assume from your expression you approve?"

Shaking my head in amazement, I said, "I don't know what I did to deserve the most beautiful woman in the world, but I got her."

"You sure do. I don't know about the most beautiful woman part, but you have me, that's for sure."

"In that case, there is something I need to do." Taking her hand, I said, "Come over here please."

I led her to the couch closest to the glass doors overlooking the beach. "Please sit here."

Shar sat on the end of the couch and I opened the glass door a few inches. The tide was in and the waves were breaking closer to the hotel so we could even hear the hiss of the water as it slid back from the beach. "That's for ambiance."

Next I went to the DVD/CD player for the big screen TV and pushed the play button. A second later Herb Alpert's voice from another of my Fred Meyer purchases came softly from the TV speakers:

You see this guy?
This guy's in love with you.
Yes, I'm in love.
Who looks at you the way I do?
When you smile I can tell
We know each other very well . . .

Finally, I walked over to the couch and knelt on one knee. Shar's big bright eyes were following my every move.

"Sharyne, in a very short time you have captured my heart and completely changed my life. Your grandmother told you the Great Spirit makes a perfect mate for each of us, and when we meet our mate, the Great Spirit will tell us.'

"Well, I have come to believe in your Great Spirit and He has made it clear to me that you are the woman He intends for my mate. So, with that and a heart overflowing with love, I ask if you will please make my life complete by becoming my wife?"

The tears rolling down both of Shar's cheeks did not surprise me. They simply meant that she understood my words.

"Travis, the words you've just spoken are the most beautiful I will ever hear.  Yes, darling, I want to be your wife more than almost anything on earth!"

I'm pretty sure there were tears in my eyes, too, when I said, "Thank you, Sharyne. Thank you with all my heart."

She leaned forward and we kissed gently. Then I remembered the little box in my hand.

"Oh, I almost forgot." Opening the box, I said, "This is a small reminder of the love I feel for you."

Shar took the box and stared at the ring. "Travis, this the most beautiful ring I have ever seen! The two shades of gold blending together are perfect. They are you and they are me. They are us together!"

"Let's see how it looks on your finger."

Carefully removing the ring from its box, she said, "I hope it fits."

"You know, that's an interesting part of all this. When I told the man at Harbrook's who the ring was for he just happened to have your ring sizes on file."

Sliding the ring smoothly on to her finger, Shar said, "Yes, isn't that an amazing coincidence? But don't get the idea I set that up. I took my mother's engagement ring in a while ago and had it resized so I could wear it and they keep files on ring sizes for all their customers. Oh, Travis, I love it!"

Not only did the ring fit perfectly, it fit Sharyne's style perfectly. The ring cost me just about three grand, but, as custom engagement rings go, that's not outrageous. Seeing the smile of Shar's face as she held her hand up to the light made the ring worth a hundred times what it cost.

"I love it, too, Shar. More important, I love you and all you mean to me."

"Travisl, even though I knew you had something like this up your sleeve, I had no idea your words and the ring and . . . well everything would be so perfect. It all hit me squarely in the heart. Bulls eye!"

"I'm glad. I wanted it all to be as perfect as I could make it. Now, let's get your coat. We're steppin' out."

Grinning again, Shar said, "And I suppose our destination is a secret, too?"

"It is. Rest assured, however, you are dressed appropriately."

While Shar went to get her coat, I snuck out on the balcony and placed a quick cell phone call to my co-conspirator and said we were on our way. Then, having carefully studied a road map earlier, I followed the back streets route to the Grange Community Center where the next phase of the night's excitement was already in full swing.

I doubt if my twisting, turning route fooled Shar, but at one point she did ask if I was sure I knew where I was going. When we were within site of the Grange hall, she said, "Looks like there's some kind of event at the Grange tonight."

"So it does. Maybe we should drop in and see what's going on."

As I pulled into the parking lot, I sensed her looking at me. "Travis, what have you done?"

In my best gangster voice, I said, "I ain't done nothin', baby. I'm innocent."

I heard her say, "Sure you are," as I got out to open her door."

Even though the building was all lit up, it was quiet as a church outside the hall. When Shar stepped through the door I held open for her, however, all hell broke lose. A small dance band played a fanfare and roughly fifty people stood and applauded. Then we were surrounded by Sharyne's closest friends, all congratulating us on our engagement and wishing us a wonderful life together. A giant white banner with large red letters over the bandstand spelled out CONGRATULATIONS, SHARYNE AND TRAVIS!

When things calmed down, I got Shar seated not far from the bandstand and walked over to the band's microphone. The musicians faded themselves to silence and using their microphone, I said, "Good evening everyone!

"As you all know by now, I have asked Sharyne for her hand in wedded bliss and she has agreed." I paused to look at Shar. "Since it wouldn't be much of a party if she'd said no, the first person I want to thank for giving us something to celebrate is Shar. Thanks, darlin'."

That comment was met with another burst of applause. When it was quiet again, I continued my speech. "My next thank you goes to Susie Carter. She's the one who made about a zillion telephone calls to put this party together at the last minute. Send me your cell phone bill, Susie. This month is on me."

I watched Shar shake her finger at Susie as if scolding her, and there was more applause before I could go on. "Now more very important 'thank yous' go out to Doctor Baxter and Nurse Ruth and all the other folks at the Curry County Medical Center who pulled our girl through a rough surgery and recovery. You guys are gold!"

I went on with a few more specific thank yous before thanking everyone for turning out on such short notice. Then I said, "Now we can get back to the festivities and I'm going to kick things off by asking my future bride to dance with me to a tune we'll both remember all our lives."

I nodded to the band leader who counted off the beat for This Guy's In Love With You while I took Shar's hand and lead her onto the dance floor. Right on cue all of the lights except those directly over the dance floor dimmed and we danced.

Shar whispered in my ear, "Travis, you are even more amazing than I thought. I have no idea how you and Susie pulled this off and kept it a secret, but thank you, thank you, thank you. Practically everyone I know is here, even the mayor for crying out loud!"

"That's a tribute to you. You are an important member of this community and they almost lost you. They're here to show you how important you are to them. According to Susie a lot of plans were cancelled at the last minute so everyone she asked—and I mean everyone—could be here."

"Don't you think the fact that I am now engaged to the most wonderful guy on the planet might have something to do with it?"

"Nope. There are only two reasons I mean anything to these people."

"What reasons, darling?"

"First, they want to know for certain I'm going to make you happy. Failure to do that in this town is a Class A Felony."

"I see, and the second reason?"

"Second, they all want to know for certain I'm not going to take you away to the big city."

Shar leaned back to look at my face. Her expression was one of surprise, but she was smiling. "You aren't?"

"No, ma'am. Unless you vote otherwise, we are staying right here."

"But your job in Hollywood. What about all that?"

"I'm established now, I don't have to be in Hollywood to write. Besides I have a more important job here."

"Oh, what job is that?"

"Making my new wife the happiest woman on the planet."

Shar pressed her face against my chest. "Oh, Travis."

After our dance, I escorted Shar to the buffet table, which was sagging with the spread arranged by Susie and laid on by an outfit called The Tuxedo Bistro. The food was excellent and there was plenty of it.

After we ate, Shar made a circuit of the room thanking everyone for coming. By the time she'd made it around the entire room, she was drooping a little. I flagged Susie down and said, "I think Shar is getting a little tired. She's only a week out of major surgery. Will  you please make our apologies to everyone after we sneak out?"

"I noticed she looked tired. I'd be happy to do that, but first I want to thank you. I've known Shar nearly all my life, and despite her physical weakness right now, I've never seen her so . . . so radiant and happy. Thank you for making that happen."

I nodded. "Susie, with Shar and me it's kind of a mutual thing. For every one of her smiles, I smile twice."

Susie is a fairly short woman, but she stood on tiptoes to kiss my cheek. Of course Shar caught us.

She gave me a playful whack on the arm. "Darn, I turn my back for a second and you two are over here making out at MY engagement party."

Susie grinned at her. "Then don't turn your back. You should have already figured every woman in town is gonna try to steal this guy."

"Well, they can't have him. He's mine!"

I agreed with her and escorted my bride-to-be out of the hall. Back at the Beachfront Inn, Shar collapsed on the couch. I said, "Tired?"

She looked up at me. Her face was drawn and a little pale. "A little."

"I hope we didn't overdo it tonight."

Shar shook her head vehemently. "No, darling. Yes, I'm a little tired, but even so this has been the most wonderful, exciting night of my life. Thank you, thank you!"

"You're welcome. Now get in there and put your jammies on little girl. I'll come in and kiss you goodnight in a minute."

She stood up. "The hell you will." Holding up her left hand, Shar flashed her new ring at me. "After all I went through to get this, I'm not going to miss any of the benefits. Get ready for bed, darling husband. I'll be back in a few minutes."

When Shar came back, I was propped up in bed and all the lights were off but one on the nightstand. I wouldn't have thought she could, especially as tired as she was, but Sharyne took my breath away yet again.

She was wearing the black silk negligee, but that wasn't what left me speechless. What did that was a soft glow—an aura—about her that gave her a grace and radiance beyond anything I ever imagined seeing in a woman.

Trying to give her every out, however, I said, "You look absolutely lovely, but if you're thinking what I think your thinking, are you sure you don't want to wait until we're actually married?"

She sat next to me on the bed and kissed me. It was a kiss that grew steadily in intensity until we were both panting a little.

"No, darling, I don't want to wait for anything. In a way weddings are like funerals. They are a technicality. Having a funeral doesn't make a person any deader than they were. As far as I'm concerned, we pledged love tonight when you asked me to be your wife and I said yes. A wedding will be fun for our friends, but it won't make us love or care about each other one bit more than we do right now."

Her logic was clear, but what I saw even more clearly was the love in her eyes. Shar saved the most special moment in her life for me and this was that moment. She was offering me a precious gift she could only give once in her lifetime.

I gently accepted that precious gift with appreciation for the spirit in which it was offered. When we collapsed an hour or so later, Sharyne rested her head on my bare chest. I will remember the last words she said before falling asleep until the day I die.

"Thank you, dearest Travis. Tonight you gave me the gift of womanhood. Sometimes I'm not as wise as you are. Please help me, darling. Help me be the woman the Great Spirit intended me to be . . . your woman."


Header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Harris Beach photos © Steve Eitzen
Character images © 123RF used by license
Historic images modified from public domain photographs

All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.