HEAT

An adap­ta­tion of the book Heat: A Fire­fighter’s Story

The Hamilton Spectator - - STYLE - BY JON WELLS (JAMES LORIMER & CO.)

Chap­ter 10: I’m Go­ing To Make It

The story so far: The big fire is mostly out af­ter burn­ing for four days. A Hamil­ton po­lice de­tec­tive named Jeff Post in­ves­ti­gates its cause to de­ter­mine who might have set it. Bob Shaw has a sore throat and cough from ex­po­sure at the fire, symp­toms that never go away. He re­tires in 2001 and takes Nathan to work with him on his last shift. Two years later, Bob is di­ag­nosed with esophageal can­cer.

Doc­tors rec­om­mended a vig­or­ous at­tack on Bob’s can­cer. First, surgery to cut out the can­cer. Not just in the esoph­a­gus, but the stom­ach as well. The surgery took place at St. Joseph’s Hos­pi­tal, on June 24, 2003. They re­moved all of Bob’s esoph­a­gus and half of his stom­ach.

He was in the hos­pi­tal for three weeks af­ter that, re­cov­er­ing. On July 31, Bob and Jac­que­line met with a new can­cer spe­cial­ist. The doc­tor laid out the next set of op­tions for them. He said esophageal can­cer is a form of the dis­ease that can spread quickly and there was an over 80 per cent chance of me­tas­ta­sis — that can­cer would de­velop out­side the orig­i­nal area. A com­bi­na­tion of ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy treat­ments should get it. But the side-ef­fects would be con­sid­er­able. It was likely to make Bob very sick, but he could stop the treat­ments at any time he wished.

When Bob left hos­pi­tal af­ter re­cov­er­ing from the esophagec­tomy, it was time to get healthy, to build up his strength in prepa­ra­tion for the ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy. Bob had to learn to eat all over again with his stom­ach now partly gone. He pro­gressed through liq­uids to puree. Bob worked his way back to reg­u­lar foods, just not large amounts.

Even the med­i­cal ex­perts thought the solid food would go right through him, but it didn’t. Bob’s sys­tem re­bounded re­mark­ably. He could speak fine, his vo­cal cords had not been dam­aged by the esophagec­tomy.

The di­ag­no­sis had been a big blow to the fam­ily. But Jac­que­line re­mained op­ti­mistic. Be­cause of Bob, his at­ti­tude, his will. The worst seemed over.

••••• In June 2003, the phone rang at the desk of Hamil­ton po­lice de­tec­tive Jeff Post. He no longer worked the ar­son sec­tion.

At first he didn’t rec­og­nize the voice of the woman on the line. Then she said her name. Now he re­mem­bered. She was an old con­tact from his days as ar­son in­ves­ti­ga­tor, some­one who had her ear to the ground, heard things. A cred­i­ble source.

“Hey, what can I do for you?” Post said.

“It’s been a while, but I thought you should know. There was some­one brag­ging the other day that he set the Plas­timet fire.”

Plas­timet? A cold case. But even though Post was out of the fire busi­ness, the file sat in a brown box un­der his desk, a re­minder of the big one he had not yet solved.

“So who said it?” Post asked.

Post’s ears perked up at the name. He hadn’t heard it in years. He had crossed paths with the ar­son­ist be­fore. And at one time, the ar­son­ist had lived a cou­ple of blocks from the Plas­timet site.

Post wasn’t anx­ious to go on a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion. But this had some­thing to it.

“Do you want to talk to him?” she asked. “Yes. I do.”

•••••

THURS­DAY, JUNE 12, 2003

The ar­son­ist felt his stom­ach churn as he watched the tall de­tec­tive stride into the room car­ry­ing a video cam­era.

Jeff Post in­tro­duced him­self, set up the video equip­ment. Post had ac­tu­ally met the ar­son­ist be­fore, years ear­lier. He had a his­tory, had set a cou­ple of al­ley fires. He had even co-op­er­ated with Post back then, had pro­vided him with a tip or two.

Post turned on the video cam­era.

“Now,” said Post. “Tell me what hap­pened that day.”

••••• On Sept. 10, 2003 Bob started a four-week ra­di­a­tion pro­gram. Then a sec­ond round of chemo. By mid-Septem­ber his body was break­ing down. He couldn’t swal­low, lost his voice. Bob was ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal on Sept. 29. He had dropped 22 pounds in two weeks. And still, he fin­ished the treat­ments.

Bob was back in the hos­pi­tal in March 2004. Bob’s re­cov­ery had not gone well this time. His body, the tem­ple he had built over the years, had taken too much. He con­tin­ued to lose weight, his skin tone ap­peared grey.

But his thick hair and neatly trimmed mous­tache had some­how sur­vived the chemo, nurses couldn’t be­lieve it. Men­tally he was, still, pos­i­tive, be­liev­ing that some­how he’d pull it out. That’s the way he was.

But the pain, it was in­cred­i­ble and con­stant. He was tak­ing med­i­ca­tion to man­age it, but Bob wanted to keep his head clear, too, wanted to talk co­her­ently with his fam­ily and friends.

As the weeks passed, vis­i­tors who came to see him at the hos­pi­tal were fewer, just those clos­est to him. Boy­hood friend Paul An­der­son was by sev­eral times. Paul worked in the health care in­dus­try and knew it did not look good.

On Satur­day, March 20, it was damp and mild, fog hang­ing over the city, rain fall­ing off and on. Paul met Jac­que­line in the hall­way at the hos­pi­tal. Tears were in her eyes. Bob was fad­ing quickly.

“Paul. What am I go­ing to do?” she said, her voice halt­ing, chok­ing on the words. “Bob is my breath.”

Paul An­der­son never for­got those words. Her breath.

His chest tight­ened, he fought hard to keep it to­gether. He hugged Jac­que­line and walked down the hall and into Bob’s room.

Bob Shaw was out of bed, sit­ting in a reg­u­lar chair. What? How could he even con­tem­plate do­ing it? Some­how Bob had willed him­self to use the bath­room by him­self, this pale thin shell of the strap­ping ath­lete Paul had known, had done it and made it back to a chair by the bed, where he sat, ex­hausted, spent, his chin in his chest, slumped over.

Paul couldn’t be­lieve it. In­cred­i­ble, the ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain he was in. God, he is tough. No­body else could do what Bob Shaw is do­ing. No­body. He was do­ing it for Jac­que­line and Nathan, thought Paul, will­ing him­self through it. Try­ing to make them feel bet­ter.

It in­spired Paul to suck up his own courage, to say what needed to be said, to put the mes­sage in Bob’s head, his soul, while he could still hear. Paul kept his voice steady, fight­ing emo­tion.

“Bob, I want you to know that no mat­ter what, Jackie and Nathan will be looked af­ter.”

Bob raised his head slightly, looked at Paul.

“I’m go­ing to make it,” he whis­pered. “We’ll get a golf game. Be­gin­ning of June.”

Bob paused and then added, “For sure.”

Paul said noth­ing, just looked at him, as­tounded, ren­dered speech­less by the fight in the old Moun­tain boy. Bobby Shaw was a hero.

That same day, just up Con­ces­sion Street, at Doc’s Bar and Grill, fire­fighter and long-time buddy Mike “Bronco” Hor­vath sat with a cou­ple of the boys. He had an idea. Yes. He went down the street to the Tim Hor­tons. Grabbed two empty brown cof­fee cups, with lids, and a card­board tray. He re­turned to Doc’s, told the boys he was go­ing to see Bobby, then walked on the wet side­walk along Con­ces­sion Street to the Hen­der­son Hos­pi­tal. He walked in Bob’s room car­ry­ing the card­board tray. Bob was in bed.

“Bobby, look what I got for ‘ya.”

He looked back with that drained look.

“Mike, I don’t think I could take cof­fee right now.”

“Cof­fee? Who said any­thing about cof­fee? Un­less La­batt’s makes cof­fee.”

Bob felt a thin smile on his face. “You’re kid­ding.” Bronco opened a lid. “Try this.”

Bob put the cup to his mouth, felt the old cold friend on his lips, the tin­gling on his tongue, the liq­uid gold slid­ing down his raw throat, like a burst of sun­light en­ter­ing his rav­aged body. Had it ever felt so good? At that mo­ment he was tip­ping a draft back in Doc’s with the boys, or on a golf course in the heat of sum­mer, sweat run­ning down his strong, mus­cled back.

“Blue Lite, Bobby,” Bronco said. “Cheers.”

And Bronco took the lid off his Tim Hor­tons cup of Cana­dian, tapped it against Bob’s. The fire­fight­ers sat there, drink­ing their beers.

To be con­tin­ued Mon­day. Next Time: Destiny Of The Right­eous

De­tec­tive Jeff Post wasn’t in­ves­ti­gat­ing ar­son any­more, but then he got a call.

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