Life in Crystal Beach
Episode 6: The Man in the Gray Hoodie


This story began on a Monday in November.  I remember it was Monday because I passed by Noble Carl Park down by Swedes convenience store where the normal Monday crowd had gathered to get free food.  You see, every Monday some of the local churches along with the thrift resale shop, Second Going, would bring down a big trailer filled with can goods and other staples along with fresh fruit.  They would distribute the food to just about anyone who showed up as long as they could prove that they were from the immediate area.  Of course, the food was meant for those who needed it but, in my opinion, the program was highly abused.  Every Monday morning around 10:00 people would start showing up for the freebies.  You could tell by the type of vehicles in the parking lot that not everyone who showed up needed the free food.  Sometimes as many as forty or fifty people would line up for the food that was packed in boxes and carried away.  Now I didn’t make much money, just barely enough to get by most times.  But I was taught that a man worked for what he got and since I didn’t work for this food and since my taxes didn’t go to pay for it, I figured I didn’t deserve getting it.  I know not everybody feels that way.  Usually the excuse people use is that if they didn’t get it, someone else would or it would just go to waste. Of course, canned goods seldom go to waste but it seemed to be a good enough justification for taking a handout. I believe that’s what’s wrong with our country, too many people want things given to them for nothing.  We call it entitlements instead of handouts because it sounds less harsh, I guess.  Anyway, that’s another story.

On this particular Monday, I had decided to pick up a donut or two and get some coffee from Dannay’s, our local donut store. Then I figured that I would take it to the beach for some quiet time before going to work.  Some people call “quiet time” meditation.  I call it daydreaming. I used to have this reoccurring dream that I’d be sitting in a room somewhere with a lot of other people when a man would come in and tell me that there was a major crisis that couldn’t be solved unless I got involved. I’d rush out of the room while everyone wondered who I was and why I was so important. I guess everyone needs to feel like a hero once in a while.  I like to watch spy movies, even the old ones. Superhuman guys like James Bond or Jason Borne face what seems like insurmountable odds and yet, they always come out on top.  They can fight like a hundred martial arts experts at one time and still whip all of their butts without getting as much as a bloody nose. I know that’s impossible but I like to think it could really happen; that somewhere these guys really do exist and they’re out there singlehandedly protecting our country. Of course, that would never really be me.  When it comes to physical encounters I’m a bit of a chicken.  I mean, I don’t run away or anything unless that’s the only way out.  I just always try to talk my way out of conflicts.  You know, the-pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword type thing.

When I was in the third grade I got in an altercation with this really nasty dude named Harlen.  My desk was behind his. He said something stupid in class, which he was always doing, and I lightly slapped him on the back of the head. Before I knew it, he spun around and cold-cocked me on the nose! Well, not really cold-cocked me because I didn’t pass out, but it hurt like hell. My nose bled like a son-of-a-bitch! I tried not to cry but tears ran down my face like I was some kind of a crybaby. Embarrassed the hell out of me. There are a lot of places on your body that are really sensitive to pain, that hurt like a son-of-a-bitch when you get hit there, but none of them, except maybe for the crotch, is as painful as getting hit in the nose!  So I decided that physical contact with someone else’s fist is not something that I want to experience again.  

It was one of those really pretty November days when the weather was turning a little cool and a slight north breeze made the gulf look as calm as a small lake. It was really an awesome sight for a young guy who was trying to find himself.  You know, that kind of day that causes you to reflect on life.  Not that I had much life to reflect on, but if I did, it would have been a good day to have done it.  Actually, I was thinking about a great looking girl that I had met in college.  We went out once but that was about it.  She thought I was a loser simply because I didn’t have any goals.  Boy, if she could see me now!  I might be a loser, but I’m living at the beach! It doesn’t get much better than that! 

When I got to the beach it was almost totally deserted.  After Labor Day Crystal Beach gets really quiet.  The summer crowds have packed up and headed home, leaving only the local residents to enjoy the serenity of the gulf. I had just finished a large cup of coffee and my donuts when the urge hit me to drain my bladder.  As I mentioned, there wasn’t anyone around except this small tent tucked up in the dunes a few hundred feet down the beach and there didn’t seem to be anyone there so I decided just to relieve myself behind the car.  As I was just getting started, this large black car pulled onto the beach from a nearby street.  Since I was between my car and the dunes, I figured that my actions were still adequately hidden from view.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  The car abruptly pulled up beside me and a large chubby fellow got out.  Now, while this was extremely embarrassing, stopping a urination mid-stream is not an easy task.  In fact, it’s virtually impossible so I decided to finish up.  The large man just stood there for a few seconds.  I don’t mind telling you that it became more and more uncomfortable as the seconds passed with this bystander watching me take a leak. Pissing is not meant to be a spectator sport!

“You about through?” He crossed his arms.
“Yeah, almost. You need something?” I asked as I completed my task and stored my equipment.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a little black wallet.  He held it out toward me as he opened it.  It was an ID card that showed an image that vaguely resembled him with the initials DEA.
“Yeah, so you looking for drugs or something? If you need a urine sample I’m afraid I’m all out unless you don’t mind a little sand in your sample.”

Actually, there are a lot of drugs around Crystal Beach.  Not much of the hard stuff but quite a bit of marijuana.  You see, there are a lot of older guys that live here and marijuana was popular when they were teenagers.  Back then, though, it was like a major crime to get caught with the stuff.  Today, with it being legalized in many states, I think they feel like it’s a better way to get a buzz than with alcohol, and so they’ve picked the habit up again.  I mean, when you’re sixty-five years old who cares what the hell you do?  I mean, that’s the way I feel about it.  They’ve had a long life and paid their dues to society so why not let them enjoy a joint or two? Of course, I also feel that way about younger guys but especially the old folks.
He put the ID back in his pocket.

“You know it’s against the law to urinate in public.”
“Yeah, but I don’t see any public. I mean, there’s nobody around, right?”
“It doesn’t matter.  It’s still against the law.”
“But you just said it’s against the law to urinate in public. But there’s no “in public.’”
“It’s against the law,” he said emphatically.
“So, you’re saying that if I lived on a deserted island and I took a wiz it would be against the law?”
“That’s what I’m saying.” 
“But if there’s no one around…” He didn’t let me finish.
“The law’s the law.”
“I still don’t get it.  I mean, I guess I could see where it might be a big deal if I pulled down my shorts and took a shit and left something that was going to be around for awhile, but piss will soak up in a minute and be gone!  So, what’s the big deal?”
“Urinating in public is a crime. That’s the big deal,” he repeated. “If you had shit I’d give you a ticket for indecent exposure.”
“Yeah, but exposure to who if there’s no one around? You know, if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, did it make a sound?  So, if I take a shit and there’s no one around to see it, did I really take a shit?”
He got his little ticket pad out of his pocket and started writing.
“I need to see your drivers license.”
I took it out and handed it to him.
“No, really,” I asked sincerely, “what’s important here, the urination or the public?  Because if urination isn’t illegal and it requires that a public be present to make it illegal then when there’s no one around it’s only an act of urination and urination isn’t illegal!”
“Okay, Sir, you’ve said about enough. I think I should look in your car,” he said as if I’d pissed him off.
“What? What’d I do?” 

You see, I was serious about the urination and the public thing.  I wasn’t trying to be a smartass.  The trouble is, people are always thinking that I’m being a smartass when I ask a serious question. I remember a time last summer when a large fellow came into the Hardhead’s Icehouse, a local bar where I was having a drink one day after work.  He sat on the barstool next to me.  He started telling this story to everyone around us.  He said that he was at someone’s house sitting on the deck having a drink and smoking a cigar.  He said he flicked an ash on the deck and the people who owned the house got really pissed.  I stopped him and asked what kind of cigar.  He looked at me sort of irritated and said that the kind of cigar had nothing to do with the story.  I said that I thought it did because if it was a Churchill, which is a really large cigar the ash would have been a big one.  But if it was a Corona it would have been a small ash, hardly worth getting upset over. So,…

That was as far as I got.  The last thing I remember was this sharp pain on my left cheekbone.  I had flashbacks of Harlen and the third grade. I must have been out for several minutes.  When I woke up the guy was gone and I never heard the end of the story.  You see, he thought I was trying to be a smartass.  I thought the kind of cigar he was smoking sort of enhanced the story! I just don’t get it.

“You need to turn around and spread your legs,” The big guy said as he moved closer to me.
“In all honesty, Officer, I’m a little uncomfortable turning my back and spreading my legs in front of a guy who seemed to enjoy watching me take a wiz!”
“Just do it,” he said sternly.
I did as I was told. As I did, a whisper inadvertently slipped out.
“It’s a good thing I’m not black.”
“What did you just say?” he asked forcefully.
Man this guy had great hearing.
“I said, okay I’ll turn my back,” I replied.
He began to pat me down, not at all gently.
“What’d I do?”
“You’re acting suspicious.”
“I always act this way.”
He reached into my front pocket.
“Anything in here I need to know about?” he asked.
“Just your hand,” I whispered.

With his hand in my pocket I remembered an old film clip that I had seen in film class. It was from an ancient television show called, You Bet Your Life. It was hosted by a comedian named Groucho Marks. It was a sort of game show. Groucho had put a small prize in his front pocket. He told the female contestant to reach into his pocket and get the prize.  As she reached into his front pocket, embarrassed, she said, “I feel funny”. He replied, “Reach a little deeper and you’ll feel nuts!” Although tempted, I refrained from using the line. Sometimes you have to sacrifice humor in order not to be arrested.

He finished his search.
“Open the car door.”
I opened the front door.  A couple of soda cans fell out.  He glanced inside.
“What is all this stuff?  This car is a mess!”  He seemed appalled.  I started to say that it made it harder for cops to find my gun but I decided that might not be the best thing to say under these circumstances.
“Sorry.  I haven’t had time to clean it.”
“Look, I’m just going to give you a ticket for urinating in public and you can go on your way.”
“But I don’t plan to go anywhere. This is my way, this is where I was headed. You’re the one who was going someplace.”
He gave me a look.
“Fine.” He handed me the ticket. “Have a nice day.”

He turned, got into his car and left. I hate it when someone says, “Have a nice day.”  They really don’t mean it most of the time.  It’s just a way to end a conversation.  You might as well just say “Bye” or “Cheerio” or “Fuck off” or something.  It’s like people say, “How’s it going?” When they really don’t want to know.  Don’t believe me? Start telling them how it’s really going and see how long that conversation lasts before they say, “Have a nice day”, and then bugger off.  It’s all bullshit.
I was pretty pissed off, I can tell you.  That was a $240.00 piss!  I walked along the beach trying to calm my nerves.  I really could have used a joint. I was just passing the tent that I told you about when I glanced over and saw a fellow sitting inside.  He was just sitting there on this sort of torn up camping chair, a gray hoodie hiding his face. I walked over. Everything he was wearing looked old and worn out. That is, except his hoodie.  It was really a nice one.

He nodded. “The cop gave you a ticket?”
“Yeah. Pissing in public.” I sulked.
“I guess I’m the public,” he said dryly.
“Oh, so you’re the one!”
He smiled.
“I’m Lee,” I said holding out my arm for a handshake.
He looked down at my hand.
“Is that the hand you pissed with?”
“Oh, yeah.” I wiped it on my shorts. “I usually wash my hands after I piss.”
He held out his hand. “I usually don’t piss on my hands.”

He invited me in and we talked for about an hour. I sat on a small piece of ten-by-ten pylon that had been cut to build a house. The tent was small, maybe six feet by eight feet. He had some old shirts hanging over the windows to block out the light or maybe dry them. I couldn’t tell. There was a small duffle bag in the corner and a blowup mattress that was half filled with air. And, of course, there was a layer of sand about an inch thick that covered the floor and just about everything else in the tent. Even as a teenager, I couldn’t stand camping at the beach.  I hate being covered with sand.  That crap will get in places that you didn’t know you had! Grit, grit, goddamn grit everywhere! I mean, I know that sounds funny, me saying something like that since I’m living at the beach, but I don’t live on the beach, just near it. But I guess if that’s the only place you have then you gotta learn to put up with it.  Hell, I don’t know, maybe the guy liked living in this shit.

His name was Daniel.  His dream was to have a good job and a family.  He landed a job that he really liked but his company sold to a larger company and he got laid off.  Because he lived in a small rural community, he had trouble finding another job that paid as good as the one he got fired from so he soon found himself in debt.  He was looking for another job when he discovered that his wife was having an affair with some other dude. By the time he found out about it, it had been going on for over a year. With no job and no family, his dreams had turned to nightmares.  He packed a bag, gave everything to his ex-wife and the Salvation Army and hit the road.  That was six months ago.  He guessed he was just between dreams, looking hard for something else to live for. Life’s a bitch and then you die!

I really liked old Daniel; not that he was old or anything.  I figure he was about forty.  It’s hard to guess a person’s age.  Especially women.  They can pile on the makeup and completely cover up the wrinkles and other signs of old age.  You really never know how old they are.  I used to date a girl who never wore makeup.  She was attractive but a little makeup would have helped.  Of course, I never recommended it.  That would have been like committing suicide! Honesty is not always the best policy, especially when it comes to women. As it turns out, it wouldn’t have done any harm to tell her what I thought since she fell in love with some other dude anyway.  When she walked out I should have said something like: “By the way, a little makeup would be a big improvement!” But I didn’t.  I never can think of what to say, you know, the really good shit, until it’s too late. Of course, at least with her there were no surprises. I’ve known women who looked great until they removed their makeup. Then they’d scare the hell out you!

So she left me for this bodybuilder dude.  You know, the kind of guy who’s always looking for a mirror so he can admire his own body.  I hear most of those guys are gay.  They really might not be but it makes me feel better to believe that since I’m sort of the scrawny type.  Not that I don’t have muscles, I really do.  I’m pretty strong, actually.  It’s just that I’m not going to win any big trophies for my physique.  So, anyway, they’re probably gay.

Daniel wasn’t gay, though.  He was just sad.  He didn’t seem overly intelligent, but he wasn’t stupid, either. He was just really down on himself. A man needs a home and a purpose otherwise he’ll feel like shit.  Some of my college friends who do nothing but sit around and play video games and drink all day are always wondering why they feel like shit.  I tell them it’s because all they do is sit around playing video games and drinking all day! I tell them that but they don’t listen.  That’s the way most people are.  They ask you a question but if your answer isn’t what they want to hear they ignore you.

You can’t hide from the truth.  No matter how deep you stick your head in the sand, your butt’s still exposed. Anyway, Daniel will find his way.  I’m sure of it.  He’s a good guy.  I figured I’d never see him again. He said that a cop had come by and told him he’d have to move out in two weeks.  I suppose there’s a law or something about camping on the beach.  Nowadays there’s a law for everything.

That evening after work I found my usual place out on the deck having a scotch and a cigar.  I can’t afford good scotch so I drink what I can afford.  It doesn’t really matter anyway because after the first shot all of your taste buds go numb so it all tastes the same.  It was one of those dreary nights that we occasionally get at the coast.  The southeast wind blows a fine mist off the gulf that gets on everything. That’s the reason why things rust so fast down here. So I was having my second glass of cheap scotch when I noticed a man walking down the street coming from the beach.  It was already dark so I couldn’t see very well.  The only light was provided by a few streetlights scattered around the neighborhood. These streetlights created small pools of light along the narrow streets. As the fellow came nearer, I could see that he was wearing a gray hoodie.  I say, “he”, because he was walking like a guy.  You know, he didn’t wiggle much when he walked.  I’m not sure women can help it but it seems to me that they always kind of sway their hips when they walk.  That’s why when you walk behind one she’ll always catch your attention, that is, if you’re a guy. I don’t know if other women or body builders pick up on this or not. So this fellow walks right in front of my house and I get a pretty good look at him; I mean as good as I could with it being dark and all.  I thought it might be Daniel.

“Hey, Daniel!”
He didn’t respond. So I yelled a little louder.
“Hey, Daniel!”
Still no response.  The guy didn’t even look around. Now I realize that I’m not very memorable but you’d think he would’ve remembered me after just a couple of days.  I mean, I thought he’d at least look around when I called his name.  I know I would if some dude called out my name from the deck of some house.

He passed on by. I finished my drink while trying to figure out why ol’ Daniel hadn’t responded to me.  I finally gave up and headed inside to watch some tube.  In case you haven’t noticed, unless you have Dish or Direct TV there’s nothing to watch on television anymore.  God, save me from another doctor, attorney or police drama!  They’re all the same only with different actors; same story, same plot, same ending.

Several uneventful days went by and then one evening I thought I was experiencing déjà vu.  Sitting on my deck having the same cheap scotch, I saw what looked like the same fellow walking up from the beach, wearing the same hoodie.  He passed by.  This time I didn’t yell at him.  I just watched him walk by.  He disappeared into the night.

It was the following day, while I was at work, that I overheard two of our Sheriff’s deputies who had come in for lunch, talking about several robberies that had occurred in the same neighborhood over the past week.  When I mentioned it to the bar manager, Pete told me that the robberies had occurred in my neighborhood––all of them late at night.  Of course, I immediately thought about the hooded stranger that I had seen on those late evenings. That’s always the way it is.  When we see something that’s unusual we suspect something sinister. Of course, I thought about Daniel and how I’d seen him walking late at night through the neighborhood. I was afraid it might be him.  But why would he steal?  I mean, he didn’t act like the kind who would break into someone else’s house and grab shit.  Besides, I didn’t see anything that looked stolen in his tent.  Of course, maybe he’d already sold it or something.

“Hey, Pete, you know I’ve been seeing this guy in a hoodie walking down my street for the last few nights. I wonder if there’s any connection.”
He thought for a second.
“You live on Townsend, don’t you?”
“Naw. That’s probably Laura Beesley’s nephew. She lives in the house at the end of the street, on the beach.  He’s down here for a visit. He’s been showing up late at night for a beer.”
“Does he wear a gray hoodie?”
“Yeah, I think so.”

I nodded.  Maybe the guy that I had been seeing wasn’t Daniel after all.  Maybe that’s why he didn’t look up when I called his name.  So there were two gray hoodies in the neighborhood.  Interesting.
The exact same thing happened over the next week.  The stranger passed by my house at almost the same time.  This time I was sure that it wasn’t Daniel.  The guy’s shoes were too nice.  He was wearing those really expensive tennis shoes that rich basketball players wear. I could tell by the reflective logo that caught the light when he walked past.

A couple of nights later I was at Hardheads Ice House, another Crystal Beach hangout where I sometimes enjoy a beverage after work, when Bart Stevens, one of the local Sheriff’s deputies walked in.  He was off-duty.  As I’ve mentioned before, the law enforcement at Crystal Beach is handled by Galveston County because Crystal Beach is not really a town.  That is, it’s not incorporated so we don’t have any city police.  The deputies are sent over from Galveston.  Rumor is that if you work for the Sheriff and you do something stupid, they’ll assign you to Crystal Beach as sort of a punishment.  Bart wasn’t here because he’d screwed up or anything, he was the only deputy who actually lived in Crystal Beach. 

“Hey, Bart.” I plopped down on the barstool next to him.
“Hey, I’ve got a question for you.  I’ve heard that there have been some burglaries in Emerald Beach and I was wondering if you’d caught the dude who’s doing it.”
“Nope. Not yet.  Whoever it is has been hitting about one a night.  And it’s not just in Emerald Beach.  He’s also broken into houses in two other neighborhoods.” He took a big swig of beer.  Almost everyone in Crystal Beach drinks light beer.  Man, I can’t stand that stuff.  Light beer is like drinking water to me.  I like a good dark beer, full of flavor.  Actually I never liked beer until I was older.  When I was at college while everyone else was drinking beer I was drinking the hard stuff.  Then, last year, while I was visiting Mexico I ordered a Carta Blanca.  Been drinking beer ever since.
“So you have any leads?”
“Maybe.  There’s this bum that’s living on the beach near the neighborhoods that have been hit.  He fits the description.”
“Yeah. Right down to his gray hoodie. I think they’re planning to pick him up tomorrow.”
“Cool. It’ll be good to know my stuff is safe.”
“Right.  As if you have stuff someone would want to steal!” he chuckled.
“Thanks, dude.  You never know.”

I started to think.  I just couldn’t believe that Daniel was the culprit.  I know I’m probably not the greatest judge of character but I was sure that Daniel wasn’t the thief. I looked over at Bart.

“Hey, you know Laura Beesley’s nephew is visiting and he has a gray hoodie. And, he’s about the same build as your suspect.”
Bart looked at me.
“How do you know what our suspect looks like?”
“What I mean is that maybe he has the same build as your suspect.  Have you considered him?”
“Not that I know of.  Do you know something?” He was getting curious.
“Nope.  Just wondering.”
“I think the team is pretty certain that the bum is our guy.”
“Okay.  So, there it is.”

Why do people always seem to assume that someone is a bum if they don’t live in a customary house or apartment? You can be homeless without being a bum.  I mean, a bum stands around and begs for money and carries a sign that always ends with, God Bless You. As if God is going to bless me because I give some conman panhandler a buck! Now I don’t know God’s procedures but I doubt seriously if giving a buck to a panhandler is on His blessing’s list. I did see one honest panhandler in Houston once.  He had a sign that said, Honestly, I need a beer. I liked the sign but I still didn’t give him a buck. I didn’t consider Daniel to be a bum. He was just homeless.  He didn’t ask anything of anyone.  He was just a guy whose life had been smashed to shit. He was just a guy who was between dreams.

About that time Gracie Sanders walked in and sat down at the table. There was a rumor that Bart and Gracie had a thing going. Bart gave me that “you’re no long welcome” look that I had seen many times before so I excused myself and left.

That night after work I decided to go back to the beach and visit with Daniel.  When I arrived at his campsite he was preparing dinner: Vienna sausages and Ramen Noodles.  I call Ramen Noodles plastic soup.  Not that I don’t like it, you know? I mean, what single guy can live without Ramen Noodles?  It goes with anything, it’s a no-brainer to fix and you can put a lot of other shit in it to make it taste different.  It’s a cheap meal in a plastic wrapper.
Daniel offered me a sausage and a cup of soup.  I declined.  In the course of conversation, I asked him where he got his cool hoodie.  He told me that he got it out of the trashcan.

“The trashcan? Someone threw away that nice, good-looking hoodie?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he answered.  “This man just walked over to the trashcan and hung it on the post holding the can.  I figured that he meant to throw it away but he put it on the pole instead in case someone might see it and want it.  I needed it so I went and got it.”
I asked him what the fellow looked like.  He described the guy.
“About five-foot-nine.  Curly black hair, medium build.”
“Did you notice his shoes?” I asked.
“Yeah.  They were really nice ones. Tennis shoes.”

I thanked him and left. I know there are a lot of nice tennis shoes out there, but not in Crystal Beach! And it was an important clue.  I also looked around the tent and didn’t see anything that looked like it had been stolen. 

The next day the sheriff picked Daniel up.
Four or five days passed.  The stranger with the gray hoodie had not reappeared.  Maybe Bart was right.  Maybe the culprit was Daniel.  On the other hand, if it had been Gary, the nephew, he’d be a fool to keep stealing when his scapegoat had been apprehended.  It was about 6:00 p.m. one night when I was back at Hardheads that Bart came in. This time he had Gracie draped over one arm. She was smiling like she’d just heard some really juicy gossip. I gave them a minute to find a seat and order drinks.  As I approached the table, Gracie was showing the waitress her new engagement ring.  I guess the rumors were true.

“Hey, Bart.”
Gracie threw her hand out in front of my face.
“See what I got?” Her face glowed and her crooked teeth glistened.
“Yeah, wow! Those diamonds look almost real!
“Fuck you, Lee!” Bart was not amused.
“Only kidding. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” he said gruffly.
“Hey, I hear you got your man.  Do you still think he’s the right guy?” I asked.
“Yep.” He took a big swig of beer.
“I guess everyone will get their shit back then,” I said.
“Didn’t find any,” he replied without expression.
“You didn’t find any anything?”
“Nope. No electronics, no jewelry, nothing.”
“Well then how can you know it was him? Did he confess?”
“Nope.  But we did find about two-hundred bucks in cash in his tent.  We figure he’d already fenced the jewelry.” He sounded confident.
“Bart, who would he sell it to in Crystal Beach?” I argued.
“That’s not my concern.”
“Well, it should be, shouldn’t it?  I mean, here’s a guy who’s got nothing and he seems to be satisfied having nothing and you say he steals shit but you don’t find anything.  That doesn’t make any sense does it?”
“We found the money, I told you,” he exclaimed.
“He could have already had the money, couldn’t he?  I mean, in Crystal Beach who has two-hundred bucks to spend on stuff like jewelry?  You know?  Down here jewelry consists of a necklace made from wine corks or a bracelet made from seashells. Nobody wears expensive crap.  Except you, Gracie.” I thought I should throw that in. She smiled.
“And besides, if someone has two-hundred bucks to spend they’re more than likely going to go to the Big Store and buy a Brother’s pizza and a six pack of light beer and use the rest to buy bait!  This just doesn’t add up!”
“Look, Lee, the thing is, we think we have our man.  There haven’t been any burglaries since we arrested him. That’s gotta tell you something.”

He looked at Gracie and gave me that “go away” look again. This time I was more persistent.
“I understand that.  But if it was someone else who was using the old guy as a scapegoat they’d be stupid to go on robbing when you took him off the street, you know? Did you know that Laura Beesley’s nephew has the exact same kind of gray hoodie as Daniel?”
“Yeah, so what? A lot of people have a gray hoodie.”
“And did you know,” I continued, “that the nephew was the one who left a gray hoodie on a trashcan where Daniel would find it?”
“So? Where do you get this stuff?”
“Come on, Bart! This is important shit!  You might have the wrong guy!”
“Yeah, and we might have the right one.  Look, we have a detective that handles this stuff.  I just patrol, okay?  So, if they say they have the right guy, they have the right guy. That’s just the way it is.  Now, leave us alone. We’re celebrating here.”
“Sure. Sorry. No problem.” He took another big swig.  I took the hint.

That really pisses me off!  Everybody today seems to take the easiest way out of a situation.  There’s no such thing as gathering information anymore.  Someone is accused of something and without having any real evidence the media implies that they’re guilty and everyone else jumps on the damn bandwagon.  So the person is presumed guilty until they can prove that they’re innocent.  It’s not fair, you know?  It’s supposed to be the other way around. It’s just not goddamn fair! That’s not the way it’s supposed to be!

I went out to the beach where Daniel had been living.  The sheriff’s guys had already cleaned up the place.  I walked around for a few minutes.  The funny thing is that without seeing his stuff it was like he never was there at all. It’s amazing how quickly reality becomes memories. In a fraction of a second the present becomes the past. I had just been talking with him the day before and now he was gone. Maybe he wasn’t there at all. Maybe it was all a dream. After all, there were no signs, no evidence of his existence.  There was nothing.  It was all gone.  Maybe that’s the way people think about me when I leave a place, leaving no trace of my being there except a memory and even that may fade shortly as new memories take its place.  How depressing! I went home to enjoy my own reality: a double scotch and a cheap cigar. 

I was at work the next day when who should show up for lunch but Laura Beesley.  I hurried to her table hoping for a chance to visit.  When I got there she was talking with another lady and showing her a beautiful bracelet that her nephew had given her the day before he left.  She explained that it wasn’t new, though, he got it from an estate auction somewhere up north where he was working at the time.  Maybe he did.  Then again, maybe he just got it from an estate!  I guess we’ll never know. But the way I look at it, life has a way of working things out.  If the nephew was stealing, sooner or later he’d be caught. 

Several weeks had passed when I saw Bart back at Hardheads. I asked him about Daniel.  He said that the District Attorney couldn’t find enough evidence to try the case so they let him go. The last time they saw him he was headed north. I was glad he’d been released.  When you meet someone like Daniel you can’t help but think about them once in a while, at least I can’t. I wondered where he was headed and where he would end up.  And I hoped that he would somehow find a dream to chase.  Without that, life seems somehow meaningless. I finished my drink and left the bar.  As I passed Bart’s truck I happened to glance into the back seat.  Something caught my eye.  I looked closer.  It was wadded up but I could tell that it was a hoodie, a gray hoodie. I couldn’t believe it.  I stood there just thinking about the whole affair.  Daniel said that a cop had told him he’d have to leave. So, if the cop was Bart he’d have known about Daniel being at the beach. I never thought about it, of course, but the description that Daniel gave of the man who put the hoodie on the trashcan pole matched Bart’s.  I actually never tried to find out what the nephew looked like, I just assumed he fit the description.  Also, the ring that Bart had given to Gracie was way beyond what Bart could’ve afforded on his salary.  Holy shit! Could it be that the culprit was Bart all along and the nephew was just a coincidental character that happened to be around while all of this was going on? Everything seemed to fit but I had to be sure.  I walked back into the icehouse.  Bart was still sitting at the bar sipping a beer, wearing an expensive, flashy pair of tennis shoes.