I just had the most enjoyable evening (written a few days ago, I’m now in Helsinki) I’ve had in a long time. I’m on the coast, outside of Tampa. I came here to write a new book, visit my son, and do some promotions. I got hungry, decided to go to The Oyster Bar, across the bay and a five minute walk, have a beer and dinner. I love raw oysters and theirs are some of the best I’ve ever had. And cheap. I intended to spend an hour tops, come back to my house and start working again.
The place was full and I was going to have to share a table, so I did what I do. Scoped everyone out and decided who might not mind me sitting with them, and who probably wouldn’t annoy me. I stand out a bit because I have big and unusual tattoos, an unusual accent and some odd pronunciations from living in Finland for so long. Plus, I wear an ATF ball cap if it’s sunny. The combination of all those things sometimes makes people want to play 20 questions with me. I’m OK with five questions, but don’t like to relate my life story to strangers.
An older guy with a tough guy look was sitting by himself. I asked if I could sit at his table. He invited me. I have a knack for finding interesting people. The man was retired Federal Marshal Roy Oike. He spent a career hunting down the guys on the “Wanted, Dead or Alive” list. He told me enough stories for three novels. It was like sitting with the protagonist from my Inspector Vaara series, Kari Vaara, sharing stories when he’s in his seventies. Like Vaara, he’s been shot multiple times, including in the face and head, and so had brain surgery, and limps. He’s trailed people all over the world. He’s shot upwards of 20 men, killed a couple. He hasn’t counted precisely. He blew a man’s head off on a Chinese freighter. And took shit for it, despite that the guy had already shot him twice and had his pistol in Roy’s face, to blow Roy’s head off.
There is what I call “the violence industry.” It includes everybody from the military to law enforcement to bouncers in bars. It’s not an insult, just a fact. Roy agreed with my terminology. Protecting people, hunting down criminals, soldiers fighting wars…I’m not going to look it up, but I’m guessing collectively, it’s the world’s largest source of employment. I have worked in it, in various capacities. You can’t trade stories with someone who hasn’t been in the industry—they don’t get it—and I seldom talk about it. I was eating and laughing, trading stories with Roy that would make a lot of people vomit. I can’t find many people I can do that with. Our conversation was sparked by the discovery that we have the same favorite sniper rifle. And then it turned out that we had both lived in Boston and had if not mutual acquaintances, knowledge of many of the same people, although we viewed them from different perspectives.
Everybody at the restaurant knows Roy. The waitress asked if I’m an ATF agent. I answered that I’m not, that the hat was a gift from an ATF agent friend. She asked what I do and I told her I write crime novels. She said I looked like I should be in law enforcement. I said I might have liked to have been, but I’m a disabled vet, no agencies would take me. Within a few minutes, the owner sent appetizers to our table. Nice. It seems not too many people have much respect for anything anymore.
Federal Marshal Roy Oike, an unsung American hero. We sat talking until the place shut down for the night. I’m looking forward to our next beer and oysters together, then did the same together a couple evenings later. Roy, I left in a hurry and am sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
If you’re privileged enough to ever meet the man, thank him for his service to his country and offer him a beer. Offer him dinner. He spent a lifetime protecting you, and paid a heavy price for it. If you’re an American, you owe him a debt of gratitude.