Even in his mid-fifties, as he was during this trip, Lucius had a sullen-teenager relationship with God the Father. I don’t quite mean this literally. Lucius didn’t profess a belief in God and tended to mock those who did. On the other hand, he’d been raised Catholic by an abusive dad abetted by a passive mother, and he seemed to despise a vague omnipresent male authority, manifest under various guises in his fiction, and against whom in real life he constantly sought ways – usually petty ways — to rebel. After talking about these issues on the phone years later, I said, “Maybe some people think you aren’t self-aware, but you really are.”
“Oh, I’m very self-aware.” He paused but then let the confession hang. Another time, Lucius said to me, “I’m a tragedy guy, not a happy-ending guy.” But really he wasn’t. He clung to hope; he was a romantic. And to the extent he channeled his abusive, frustrated dad, he also defied and triumphed over him.
About fifteen minutes down I-84, we approached the highest waterfall in the Gorge, Multnomah Falls, and Gullivar said he’d like to see it. Lucius demurred. We didn’t have much light, and we wanted to avoid the New Year’s revelers. Gullivar and I outvoted him.
We had to park about a quarter mile away. Lucius refused to join us.
Multnomah Falls spills through old-growth fir off the edge of the Cascade Range and atomizes over a six-hundred-foot drop. Through millennia, its waters have carved out a grotto and pool, and they generate a stiff, misty wind. A stone bridge spans the pool outflow, and Gullivar and I ran up there and took in the view briefly before heading back.
Lucius was sullen. “It’s pretty neat,” Gullivar said. “You should check it out.”
“Let’s just go.”
I drove us off without argument. We had about half an hour of light left, and I realized we would lose our race against nightfall. As the wooded riverside dells and slopes gave way to the scrubland of the East Side, fog rose in the hollows and spilled over the road. Well before we arrived at the Dalles, I needed to slow down. The headlights cut feeble lines through the shrouded dark.
We made it into town okay. Gullivar switched on an overhead. Fortunately, I’d printed out a town map, and he got us aimed toward the Best Western after only one wrong turn. As we neared, Lucius said, “Gullivar, you stay behind in the car; maybe get down and cover yourself. We’ll bring you up to the room later.” No longer worried about our timeline and safety, Lucius had begun to worry about our budget.
I parked in the lot, and Lucius and I got out and went and checked in. The attendant didn’t ask how many people were staying, but Lucius acted shifty anyway. After we got our keys, and reemerged outside, he said, “Why don’t you drive around the block and then sneak Gullivar into the room. Park down a few spaces.”
Gullivar emerged from under the coat as I pulled out of the lot. “Is this really necessary?” he said. “How long does he expect us to be gone? I’m pretty hungry.”
“I don’t know.” I made a few random turns in the fog. “Say, there’s a Burgerville.”
We got burgers and fries and a seat and had our first good chat, lingering twenty minutes. I didn’t know quite how to get back, so it came as a surprise when I pulled to the edge of the lot to see the hotel right across the street. With only one entrance that we could see, there wasn’t a question of sneaking in. I took a spot about six spaces down from where we originally parked, and we walked straight through the lobby. The clerk didn’t even look up.
Our room was on the second floor. Entering, Gullivar and I chuckled over our “subterfuge,” but then we got quiet. Lucius had installed himself as a sentry. He’d turned the small desk chair, inadequate to contain him, toward the door, and he glowered, struggling up with what appeared to be more emotional than physical effort. “Hi,” I said, trying to forestall the breaking storm. “We grabbed a burger.”
“Did you? Did you, Bob, you…!” And then he raised his fists and thundered an epithet into my face. Gullivar blanched and stepped away. For a moment, Lucius seemed about to hit me. Instead, he stomped out of the room and slammed the door. Gullivar and I faced each other, shocked.
“Uh, what was that about?” I asked.
Gullivar shrugged. “I guess we were away too long.”
We each gravitated to a separate queen bed and sat down like kids sent to time out. I had to consider what kind of a guy I’d fallen in with and whether I shouldn’t end the trip right there. Maybe Lucius could be physically abusive.
“Have you ever seen him like this?” I asked carefully.
Gullivar frowned and shook his head. “No. I was going to ask the same thing. He sure seemed pissed at you, especially.”
We dithered about fifteen minutes. “Come on,” I said. “We’d better go find him.”
At the end of the hall, we found a sign to the hotel lounge. We decided to check there, and sure enough, we found Lucius drinking whiskey at the bar. He saw us hesitate at the door and waved us over, now looking chagrinned. “Take a seat.” And then to Gullivar, “Hey, man, I’m gonna talk to Bob a minute.”
“Sure,” Gullivar said. He cast about and headed toward the video poker machines.
With his son out of earshot, Lucius said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” and then added, oddly lame but sincere, “It’s not nice to curse at people.”
“We were hungry. We should have come straight back.”
Lucius ignored this. “He’s my kid, man. If you have a kid someday, you’ll understand. It’s New Year’s Eve. You could’ve gotten in a wreck. He could have been killed.”
So he’d been worried. In all the years since, I’ve never seen him that pissed off. Lucius had split with his wife before Gullivar was a teenager, and was long out of their lives. He never owned up to feeling guilt; he didn’t need to. When I wrote Mike just a week after the trip, I just dismissed the whole event with this line: “That night we had a brief problem with the hotel room that I won’t go into–nobody’s fault, really, but it created more tension between Lucius and me.” Now, finally, seems a proper time to share. Back then for months I had a slight misgiving that someday there might be worse to come.
But there wasn’t. This wouldn’t be the last road trip I’d have with Lucius. Also, we’d share hotel rooms at many science fiction and fantasy conventions. He’d spend time at my house, and I’d spend several weekends at his place in Vancouver, Washington, and later in Portland. I wouldn’t see anything close to this rage until just before his stroke, when he feared that I’d let him down on our work project. Lucius wasn’t especially demonstrative toward Gullivar, but clearly both his affection and angst ran deep.
Lucius hailed the woman tending bar and pointed at me. I ordered a beer and whiskey chaser. Before I could pay, Lucius slapped money down, and the barmaid left the whiskey as she went to make change. She failed to shelve the bottle after coming back, and instead hurried out on some errand. Lucius touched his glass to mine. We drained our shot, and Lucius helped himself to more. Then he topped off my glass too.
A few minutes later, I excused myself to play video poker. Gullivar and I got three bucks in quarters from a change machine and doubled the money inside of ten minutes.
We lost it all in another five.
Meanwhile, Lucius had drained about half the remaining whiskey. He laid down a healthy tip to cover the self-service, and then stumbled out as we followed.
Back at the room, we watched a little TV, and Gullivar and Lucius, who were lying side by side on one bed, started kicking each other and this escalated into wrestling. Gullivar was overmatched, but recovered much faster than Lucius. Lucius set the alarm. “I want to get going early,” he said. “Six o’clock.” Then he got out his notebook and told us what the barmaid had reported to him. Her husband had run off, as he occasionally did, with his longtime boyfriend, a Cuban immigrant. He always came back to her in a fit of conscience, because he aspired someday to leave both her and his boyfriend for good, to become a priest. Oh, and she owned a side business selling an original Teriyaki sauce.
We ultimately turned in at about 10:30. I volunteered to be the one who got the floor, because Gullivar would be taking the first driving shift. In notes I took sometime during the night, I wrote: “As Lucius warned us, he snores, but not as loudly as I feared. The heater burbles with him at a low setting, almost masking the sound of near-distant trains. I feel the vibration of their passing; the hitch between cars makes a small catch in their rhythm; they sound and feel like an approaching storm. The pad under this carpet is about as thin as it gets.”
I dozed fitfully and seemed to hear people ringing in the New Year. In another six hours, we’d be up.
And within two hours after that, we’d be in trouble.