I stand in a small halo of yellow light cast from the single incandescent bulb swinging naked in the Gulf breeze. The light dangles from a black cord hung from the plywood ceiling covering the front porch. The house attached is not well maintained. Paint is a long forgotten memory here.
The rustle of palm trees and chirp of frogs invade the otherwise silent night.
In front of me is Jeffrey. He sits on a crumbling lawn chair. Blocking his front door.
I feel every bit the chubby fucker who used to live down the street.
He knows me.
Everyone knows Jeffery.
I stopped to say hi after remembering this guy sometimes rented out the room behind his house to friends.
I chose to be a friend and ask if the space was available.
We were far from actually being friends.
I wait in the thick hot stew-like air for him to answer. I sweat.
I wouldn’t be here if I had somewhere else to go.
I very much do not want to be here anymore.
Jeffery says, “I’ve been arrested twice.”
The time when his wife washed up on Green Key Beach tangled in seaweed and nibbled on by aquatic life. He spent a-bit of time in a holding cell for that. The local police counted Twenty-eight stab wounds dotting her corpse.
They knew it was him.
They found the murder weapon.
Open and shut.
He got off because the cops forgot to read him his rights.
Or some such shit.
The other time he got snagged is when his baby boy got his head bashed in. When the poor kid died, the whole neighborhood started pointing fingers and issuing blame in his direction.
There was a witness.
Jeffery got cuffed live on the evening news and brought in.
But he was out shrimping.”
He pulled six gallons of shrimp on the night it happened. When his attorney brought forward this evidence, they had to let him go.
That part never made the news.
Only that he got free.
Everyone liked him for the crime.
Everyone was disappointed to see he got off.
Once he was Captain of own boat, once persona non grata on the piers, that was gone.
Now he does day labor at a gravel pit with the hope he gets blue-badged someday.
Buy his boat back maybe.
“Nope,’ he says in response to my request and cracks another beer, eyes straying to the dark street behind me.
‘It has code issues. If some government asshole comes around I’d get busted. So fuck that shit.’ He slams back half the contents of the beer in one quick gulp.
‘I always get looked at; it’s like they’re waiting.”
I don’t respond. My hands shake. I’m stoned. I smoked a thin joint on the way there. I wish I hadn’t. It was the last of my shit. Now I have horrible cottonmouth and can’t stop staring at how deadly this dude’s hands look.
He finishes the beer and tosses the empty into the dark off the porch and reaches for another from the almost empty half rack warming on the cement next to his left foot.
“I am a two-time murder suspect.” Jeff states the common knowledge. He cups the unopened Minneapolis-pressed aluminum in his lap.
I nod my head as if understanding exactly how that might feel.
“I should have known something. I should have known my wife was unhappy and I should have known my little boy was getting it rough.”
He raises his right arm and flexes a veiny fifty-year-old labor swollen bicep.
On the inside of the deeply ridged flesh is his only tattoo, an indigo colored anchor with the name Tyler above it and smile below. Both words are scrawled in hard to read script.
I crinkle my forehead in confusion.
“Tyler smiles Forever.” he explains, eyes glinting.