It was noon when I came to, awoken by a clatter in the kitchen. There was a Kenzo named Jay Caufield sitting shirtless at our table. Jay was counting bills out by denomination, scribbling notes out with a pencil.
I took a seat, then whispered, “How’s it going?”
Jay Caufield neglected to respond.
I lumbered across the kitchen, crackling limbs in constant protest. I rinsed a tumbler neath the spigot, filled it up with lukewarm water.
Jay wandered over to a closet, disappeared into it briefly. He re-emerged one moment later, holding what appeared to be a suitcase. He emptied out its contents, assembled them bare into a balance. He stood the balance on our table, pulled out a big bag of cocaine.
Jay broke the bag down into nickels. He broke the balance into pieces. Jay washed his hands beneath our spigot, stashed the case, ran down the stairs.
Jay Caufield was a thug, a debonair-looking thug, but a thug, all the same – the rancid kind that drew heat like rotting garbage draws green flies.
Jay Caufield spent the summers going shirtless, ill-fitting T draped like a rag across his shoulder. Jay gelled his hair like vinyl grooves, and he spoke with a North Philadelphia dialect. “What the fuck?” became “Whut da fuck?” “That’s the motherfucker,” became “Dat’s da mudderfucker.”
I had no idea where Jay Caufield lived, or whether Jay even had a summer place at all. I only knew that he was bound to come around, and that he had somehow gotten permission to stash his coke inside our house.
Bobbi Jean and I had been living together for three weeks. Yet the compound strain of rooming and working together had already taken its toll. Bobbi Jean had gone on record, insisting she was fed up with my inability to keep a clean apartment, to chew with my mouth shut or towel off after showering. I, in turn, had gone on record, insisting I had had it up to my eyeballs with Bobbi Jean’s poor taste in men.
Within days of moving in, Bobbi Jean had taken a shine to Chris Pascal – one of several Two Streeters living in an apartment down the stairs. Chris Pascal was a scoundrel with deceivingly soft eyes … particularly skilled at reeling in rock-bottom prey, slow and steady, like an angler. Chris took to sleeping at our apartment come the first week in June. When he and his friends all got evicted, Chris moved his things straight up the stairs with us.
Bobbi Jean did not consult me on this point. And for a time, I did not argue. Bobbi Jean was my boss, three years my senior, responsible for finding our two-bedroom apartment, as well as brokering a deal that let us to pay in weekly spurts. At times, she held that over my head, simultaneously referring to my girlfriend as Little Meghan, going out of her way to emasculate me in front of co-workers. The harder I pushed, the more untenable my work- and home-life had become.
Bobbi Jean got Chris a job as a caramel-corn cook along the front of Surfside Pier, viewing this as a reasonable solution to Chris’s inability to pay the rent. Chris accepted the position, then called out sick three times in the first week. A few days into the second week, Chris left an hour into his shift, complaining of stomach pains and nausea. I happened to be at the apartment on that evening, sitting in the kitchen with my girlfriend when Chris came walking in the door. He was carrying a new pair of sneakers. He was holding hands with some uber-tan blonde.
It was uncomfortable, rendered more awkward given the lack of space in our apartment. We did not own a couch, or a love seat, or even a properly upholstered chair. There was only my bedroom and a hidden staircase leading to Bobbi Jean’s room, which, in turn, led to an outdoor porch along the roof. There was no privacy. There was not meant to be, least of all for a two-timing freeloader like Chris.
By the time Bobbi Jean and I got home from work the final Friday in June, there were gym bags strewn about the kitchen and an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway. There was a frizzy-haired dude passed out inside my bedroom, and another Two Streeter laid out shirtless across the tiles.
Bobbi Jean evicted Chris at the end of that weekend, citing pieces of jewelry that had gone missing from her drawer. Chris Pascal resurfaced less than 48 hours later. He was living with a mother of two in an apartment right next door.
Come 4th of July, there was an outstanding issue regarding a trash bag full of clothes which Chris’s friend Frannie had left in our apartment. In the days immediately following Chris’s dismissal, that bag had disappeared, prompting most of Chris’s friends to assume that I had stolen it.
Frannie stood 6’4. He kept a news clipping in his wallet, recounting the night his golden-glove father had beaten a man to death outside a bar. On the afternoon that Frannie confronted me, he threatened to knock my teeth straight down my throat.
“I’ll knock your teeth straight down your throat,” Frannie had said.
Frannie was standing in our driveway, a contingent of friends blocking all the available exits. He was staring down at me from six inches above.
“Look, man, I don’t want anything to do with this,” I said.
“You should’ve thought about that before you stole my clothes,” Frannie told me.
“I didn’t steal your clothes,” I said. “I never asked for any of this.”
Frannie stepped right to me, so close that I could see his nostril hairs.
“Leave him alone,” a voice called. That voice belonged to Julie, our downstairs neighbor. Julie was carrying a garbage bag full of clothes. She hurled it forward like a gunny. “He didn’t steal anything,” Julie shouted. She turned her back and walked inside.
I asked around for Jay Caufield’s address. I headed over to his place after I clocked out later that same evening. As it turned out, Jay lived alone back by the bay, behind a shack without a lawn. I opened the door. Jay was sitting next to a table. His eyes ran wide and weeping, like weighted bags or purple sores.
“What’s goin’ on?” I wondered. I slapped my palm against the table.
“Justice,” Jay shouted. His head popped on a spring. “Bob motherfuckin’ Justice.”
“So this is your place,” I said. I took a gander around. “Not bad. I think I like it.”
I wandered over to the spigot, grabbed a tumbler from the rack. I poured myself a cup of beer from a quarter keg inside the fridge.
“I heard you’re upset,” Jay called from behind.
“Upset?” I said.
“Huh?” Jay said.
“Nevermind,” I said. I took a seat across the table. “Who told you I was upset?”
“Who told me dat?” Jay Caufield said, first quietly, then loud. “Who told me dat?”
“Bobbi Jean?” I said.
“Bobbi Jean,” Jay said. He was nodding his head in approval.
“What else did she tell you?”
“She told me you were being a prick,” Jay said.
“Is that right?” I said. I took a long sip of my beer.
“Don’t be upset,” Jay insisted.
“Why not?” I said. “Wouldn’t you be?”
“You don’t get it,” Jay told me. His head was hanging low beneath the light. “She’s not doin’ it for me. She’s sure as fuck not doin’ it for me. I can tell ya dat.”
“OK,” I said. I wasn’t entirely sure what we were talking about. “Then who exactly is she doing it for?”
“She’s doing it for Fes,” Jay Caufield said. “That whole thing wit da closet and keepin’ all our shit at your place, that was Gerry’s idea.”
“So what?” I said, slightly taken aback. “That gives her the right to cast me in the middle of her bullshit? To treat me like some low-level employee whenever I summon the guts to confront her?”
“What about you?” Jay Caufield said. “It seems to me you can give just like you get.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said.
“It means I’ve been comin’ up to dat boardwalk for close to a month now, inviting you down here to drink. It means that every fuckin’ time you blow me off like I’m some goddamn rat. Meanwhile, you’re always correctin’ my grammar like you’re my goddamn grandmother or some shit. I mean, I know you and shit so it’s cool, but I can remember way back in the day, I kind of wanted to beat your ass.”
And so I sat, considering whether Jay Caufield might’ve had a point. It dawned on me that Bob Justice – the nickname I had earned during my first summer in Wildwood – was actually a dig on my self-righteous verve.
I finished two beers, then helped Jay Caufield into bed. I made no stink about him stashing his cocaine in our apartment. There were angles worth considering, and ample muscle had its draw.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB)