IN THE HOOD - EDWARD HAGELSTEIN
Adam Capital – that’s what he called himself - spent a lot of time trying to prove how Bad Ass he was. He told wild stories. I believed most of them because they were so, well, stupid. Examples: He once skipped his Blackberry into the surf off South Beach to impress some topless Brazilian tourists, because he’d seen it done in a beer commercial. Apparently they hadn’t, assumed he was a moron, and strolled off. Another time he lost a $300K Lamborghini Gallardo, Giallo Midas in color, that he co-leased with another young fleeting-rich condo tycoon, behind some Miami nightclub for two days until he sobered up enough to remember where it was.
Adam was short and wiry, with a bantam rooster strut, and talked a lot about competitive kickboxing. I’m not sure anyone paid attention to that until he dislocated the landlord’s jaw –without getting up - when Adam found him standing over his bed one morning. The landlord was there to collect the week-late rent and said he’d knocked loudly and repeatedly on the door before entering the apartment.
By the time I met Adam, he’d lost everything in the real estate bust and had worn out his welcome in Miami. He was broke, his brain was altered from drugs and failure, and he was reduced to burglary for a living. We were both living in a shabby fourplex on Davis Islands in Tampa. I was putting myself through grad school and waiting tables in an Italian restaurant downtown. Adam was putting himself through a drug addiction and breaking into businesses through the roof.
My mother had died of lung cancer the year before. She’d suffered for at least two years, maybe longer, before I found out how bad it was. She hung on long enough to see me graduate from college, which had been her goal for me since I could talk. After a while, I sold the house, paid her medical bills, and used what money was left to continue school - because she would have wanted me to.
When he was evicted from his apartment, I let Adam sleep in the spare bedroom that was empty since my roommate had moved on. She found me in the bathroom, photographing the condensation on the mirror while she was taking a shower, and misunderstood my intentions. She tended to avoid me on campus, and everywhere else, after that.
Adam was sleeping in the chair outside my front door one morning, surrounded by black garbage bags full of his clothes. I needed a new roommate. All I really knew about Adam was that he worked at night.
Along with eviction, Adam was banished from the complex – which I didn’t know at the time. That didn’t pose a problem because he only went out after dark, and then through the bedroom window, into the alley. As far as I could tell, he spent the day sitting in his room with the blinds closed, smoking whatever he bought on the street or stole from the businesses he broke into.
“You’d be surprised at the shit you find in people’s desks,” he told me once. That’s when I thought he cleaned offices at night.
My idea of leisure time was riding my bike around the island, looking for running lawn sprinklers so I could photograph the interaction between the water droplets and the sun. Broken sprinkler heads, with their geysers shooting high into the sun, were my white whale. I had only found one. I had taken to getting up early on the mornings after the Mexican lawn crews worked in the area, hoping they had damaged a sprinkler head and it wouldn’t be discovered until the sprinklers activated the next morning.
My mom had gotten me a camera, an expensive one, when I graduated high school. I was perplexed at the time because I’d never had any interest in photography.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “It’ll come in handy some day.” I’d put the camera and away, still packed in its box, and had forgotten about it until I came across it when I moved out of our house and into the apartment. I’d felt lost and disengaged from almost everything since my mother’s death. I remembered what she had said about it coming in handy and taught myself to use the camera. The process of selecting a subject, waiting for the best lighting, focusing on the angles and background, and manipulating the scene gave me a sense of control. She had been right.
I don’t know why I was obsessed with taking photos of water drops. Unless it came from sitting in the chair next to my mother’s bed during her last days, listening to her painful wracking cough, and watching spittle expelling like life from her lips, framed in the fading afternoon sun descending through her bedroom window.
Adam really didn’t understand having an interest in anything, except money and addiction. Early one morning, when he was getting back later than usual, he found me on my knees in the alley, taking shots of a stray mutt peeing in its usual spot. I’d been feeding it bread scraps from the restaurant for a week, so it was used to me. The sun was perfect – streaming down the alley behind him. The dog had his leg lifted to a light pole and I was about ten shots in when Adam came up behind me.
“Taking dog dick photos?” he said.
“I’m zoomed in tight on the stream. The sun – the golden color,” I said, shooting rapidly. “You see?”
He watched for a moment. “Damn, that dog must have been drinking all night.”
The mutt dropped his leg, looked over his shoulder at us, and scampered off.
“Sometimes you’re weird as shit,” Adam said as he climbed into his window.
Once, Adam was gone for a few days. On the second day, I went into his room, wondering if he was dead. My iPod, which I hadn’t even realized was missing from my room, was on his bed. I took it and closed the door. When he came back, he’d been in jail.
“Probation violation,” was all he said.
“You’re on probation? For what?”
“Pot,” he said. “A joint.”
“Misdemeanor probation. They locked me up for a few days because I missed reporting once.”
“So it’s straight now?”
“The judge cut me loose. Said don’t do it again,” he said. “I found out something, though. What’s the name of that restaurant where you work?”
I told him.
“I thought so,” he said. “I heard the guy that owns it makes book. Takes football bets and moves a lot of cash.”
“Giuseppe? He’s an old guy,” I said. “Where’d you hear that anyway?”
“A guy in jail,” he said. “And old guys are the best crooks. He’s supposed to run it out of the restaurant. You ever see people going in and out of there like they might be placing bets?”
“It’s a restaurant. People go in and out all day.”
“Do any go back to the office and stay for a few minutes?”
I thought about it. “All the time. Salesmen, food delivery guys. There’s no way to tell what they’re there for.”
“Well,” he said, “it’s what I hear.”
I would have figured it was another one of Adam’s stories, except it wasn’t about him, so there could be some truth to it. We never said anything about the iPod.
After that is when I got on my laptop and checked the jail website. No Adam Capital. I checked all the males that had been released that day and found him under a different last name. One with a lot of consonants. He was on probation for burglary - and pot. That’s when I started locking my bedroom door when I went out, and began wondering how to get him out of the apartment.
My phone went missing. I thought I’d left it on my bed when I showered one morning, but it wasn’t there when I was done. I knocked on Adam’s door, but there was no answer, and it was locked. I asked him about it the next time I saw him and he denied seeing it. I searched for a week, then got a new phone. It bothered me, though. Enough that I didn’t go out and take any photos for a few days. When it rained one afternoon, I decided to take few shots of the leaky gutter, and when I went to get the camera from my desk drawer, it was gone. I saw Adam twice that week and didn’t say anything about it. I knew that he would lie.
At work one night, during dinner, I came out of the kitchen with an order and Adam was sitting alone at the bar. I almost didn’t recognize him because he had shaved and his hair was combed. I recognized his shirt, though – it was mine. He grinned at me. I’d need to get a padlock for my door. After I served the table, he was gone. After that, it got busy and I didn’t see him again.
My new phone rang late that night. It was the first time anyone had called in the two weeks I had it, so I didn’t know what it was at first. It was Adam. I hadn’t heard his voice on the phone before. It sounded strained, and hollow, like he was inside a barrel.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Do me a favor? Meet me at your restaurant.”
“You’re still there?”
“Yeah. I’m hanging around.”
“Are you cleaning the place?”
“Something like that.”
“What do you need?”
“Come in the back door. Do you have a key?”
“No. But I know where there’s one.”
“You never told me.”
“Why would I?”
“It would have made this easier.”
“The getting in.”
“I know,” he said. “Just hurry.”
I leaned my bike against the wall in the alley and scrabbled around for the loose brick behind a pipe where the cook stashed his key. I opened the kitchen door and stepped inside. Adam’s voice came from nowhere in the dark.
I turned the lights on and didn’t see him.
“The grill,” he said.
I walked over to the grill. It was cold. There was a phone on it.
His voice was coming from above the grill. I peered up into the vent hood, and there Adam was, upside down.
“What are you doing in there?” I said, peering into the vent. His face was a few feet up above the hood. It was flushed. I couldn’t see his arms.
“Is that a new way to clean it?”
“No, you dumb fuck. I’m breaking in.”
I was a dumb fuck. I’d never actually asked Adam what he did. I just assumed he cleaned businesses. He was wearing a t-shirt. I wondered where my shirt was now. On the roof probably.
“Is this what you do at night?”
“Most nights,” he said.
“How’d you make the phone call?”
“I was able to move my hand enough for that, then I dropped the phone.”
“Is that my old phone?” I picked it up from the grill.
“I was gonna give it back to you.”
“Where’d you find it?”
“I don’t remember.”
“In my room?”
He wheezed a little.
“But it was mine. You knew that.”
“Listen, get me out of here and I’ll buy you ten phones.”
“Did you take my camera, too?”
He was quiet for a while, except for the wheezing. “You didn’t seem to use it anymore.”
“Because you took it,” I said. “Where is it? I have some photos in there that are important to me.”
“Help me out and we’ll go get it,” he said.
“Where is it?”
“A pawn shop on Kennedy.”
“Is the card still in it?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “What are they anyway? More dog dick pictures?”
“The important ones are of my mother.” I hadn’t uploaded them to my laptop, which I was lucky to still have yet.
The photos were what I had left of her and they were on the card.
Adam was silent in the hood. After a while, he said, “The card, is that the little thing in the slot that pops out?”
“If I tell you the truth, will you get me out of here?”
“I popped it out and tossed it in the river when I was walking across the bridge.”
“I didn’t want the pawn shop to look at the photos and find out the camera didn’t belong to me.”
“My mother’s photos are in the river?”
“And all your water drop photos.”
“I don’t care about those,” I said. “As much.”
“You gonna help me out here?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you’re not going to get me out, then call the cops,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to hang on much longer.”
“I don’t think I’ll do that.”
He was silent for a while. “Maybe they’ll find me in the morning.”
“Tomorrow’s Monday,” I said. “We’re closed.”
“Just grab my hair or my ears or something and yank,” he said. “My arms are jammed up here.” He was starting to wheeze more.
He was drooling now. It dripped on the grill, mixing with something darker.
“What’s the blood from?”
“My nose, I think.” His voice was weaker. “Listen, I’m squeezed tight and not breathing too well.”
I watched the blood and the drool on the grill.
“Buddy, did you hear me?”
I turned the grill on. After a couple of minutes, the drool and blood began to pop and sputter and mix together in tiny dancing droplets. My new phone had a decent camera. I kneeled close to the grill. I got about fifteen shots from different angles, using the back lighting from the windows. When I was satisfied, I turned the grill off. Then I found a rag and wiped it down. It was silent in the hood. I put both phones in my pocket, walked toward the door, and turned the lights off.
“I didn’t take your money,” Adam said.
I stopped. “What money?”
“Your account. You’ve got plenty in there.”
“How do you know?”
“You haven’t been in that account for a year. I could have drained it dry and been gone before you noticed. You leave your statements around like you don’t care.”
I could barely hear him in the dark kitchen.
“I leave them in my desk inside my room.”
“I’m a thief. That’s like waving them around in the open to me.”
“That’s my mom’s money.”
“I feel sorry for you. Nobody else does. They think you’re creepy. That’s why I didn’t take it.”
I stood in the dark for a while, listening to Adam’s labored breathing, then stepped out the back door and left it locked behind me. He probably should have called someone else.
BIO: Edward Hagelstein lives in Tampa, Florida. His fiction has been published in phoebe and Drunken Boat. His photography has been published in St. Somewhere.