Keith Snyder
Door always open.

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The girl had the runaway look and I couldn't tell how old she was. Between fifteen and nineteen. Dirty blonde and pinch-featured. Her thinness wasn't a good kind, and it was why I couldn't tell how old she was. The boys were the kind you keep an eye on because if there's more than one of them, they'll cause trouble. She was in one of the seats that can be easily surrounded, the two-seater that mounts perpendicularly to the bulkhead, and they were around her, one of them especially.

I was standing halfway down the car listening to my iPhone and I stopped it and put it away. I didn't have a good feeling, but I couldn't get a handle on it. The boys, especially the one, were touching her more often and more intimately, leaning in closer. I hadn't seen it all start--I was just a man on the subway, listening to music on his way to work, and hadn't been scoping out the passengers. So I didn't know if she'd known them before this. But I didn't think so. They looked too predatory, which meant she was fresh meat.

I thought her reactions would tell me what was going on, but they didn't. She made too much eye contact for it to read like discomfort, but she was being too noncommittal for me to call it encouragement. They seemed to have her cell phone, too, but she wasn't trying to get it back. The one was doing something to it, maybe putting his number in her phone book, maybe getting hers.

I couldn't figure it all, but I decided I didn't like it, so I went and stood closer and watched openly. I'm 6'1" and I have this Sergeant Preston of the Yukon parka that makes my shoulders pretty square. And I had the luxury of deciding on my vibe before presenting it--and the vibe was blank.

The main boy pretended I wasn't there at first, but since I kept looking him right in the face, he eventually had to do something about it. He chose mockery.

"That your dad?" he asked the girl, and she sort of dreamily shook her head with a little amused smile that didn't match the moment. His pals snickered along with him.

"You her dad?"

Answering didn't gain me anything, so I didn't. Hilarity ensued.

At West 4th, she got up. They stuck right with her, the body language intimidating and constantly in her way. She made it out. The main one hung in the open doorway with his arm all the way across it, showcasing the expansiveness of his power, calling after her as she went.

I couldn't tell if he was going to jump off as the doors closed and follow her, so instead of waiting, I walked through his arm with some extra force just to make the point. He yelled after me, which was fine. As long as it stayed verbal, it wouldn't get physical, and I wouldn't have to throw him off the platform and think of something else for his buddies. I strolled after the girl to make sure she got out of the station okay and kept my back to the train until I heard the doors close and the challenges stop. Up on Sixth Ave. she went her way without anyone following her, and I called in late and went back down.

I don't think I'm a natural protector. I don't remember it being emphasized at home or in school. Nurturer, yes. Caring big brother. But this--I think I learned it from reading Spenser novels in my early twenties.


Butchie is a natural protector. If you mention at the playground that you need to keep an eye on your bike because you didn't bring a lock and you want to make sure nobody takes it, it'll be about a minute and a half before you realize you don't know where Butchie is.

He's over near your bike. Nobody's taking it on his watch.

And now I know how to help him with that.


If not for Early Autumn, I wouldn't have written The Night Men. "A love song to the hardboiled P.I. novel," I think I said it was at the time. No, it was a love song to Early Autumn.

He had assumed all along that his adolescence would involve rites of passage, and that they would fall within certain proscribed areas of comfortable discomfort. To find himself free-falling beyond those boundaries without any memory of having crossed them--without having done anything but try to help someone--left him frightened and disoriented.

But: "Save someone else," he'd whispered, lying on Roberto's bed with his shoes off, trying to catch a nap during Roberto's watch. He repeated it more than once, testing it, feeling where it had already barbed his imagination. It was the first time he'd ever known in a concrete sense who he wanted to be.

That wasn't just Jason getting his imagination barbed. That was me. If we can loose a good quip at the same time, so much the better. Where work is play for mortal stakes.

I read classics because Spenser quoted them.


On the train from Albany today, I read Night and Day, a new Jesse Stone paperback that Kathleen gave me. The difference between love and obsession is a recurring theme in Parker's books and, if I understood a side comment in one of his MWA addresses correctly, in his life.

In any of his books more recently, and this is one of the things that just gets me about him, you'll be reading along, glad about how terrific the dialogue is and how fast the story moves, and suddenly there will be a line or a paragraph that so lucidly crystallizes some aspect of being human that you have to go back and read it again. It's always short and fast, and it can get past you because it's right in the pocket with the rhythm.

Since this book touches on love and obsession, the lucidity is about that. I can't always make out that particular line either, even when I squint. Here he is crystallizing stuff for me again, when I'm 43.


I read someplace that there are still a couple of his books in the publishing pipeline. Once they're out, that's it. No more Spenser. No more anything.

I wrote to him once. I won't lay it out for you, but it was basically thank-you. Part of the note he wrote back turned into the inscription Jason gets in his book in The Night Men.

One of my first signings in L.A. was right before his. He picked up the book I'd awkwardly dropped on the table in front of him after waiting in the signing line--I think I startled him, it was that kind of awkward--held it up, and told everybody to buy it.

When he was on his game, nobody could touch him--and when he was off his game, almost nobody could touch him. R.I.P.

And thanks.

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