The man I still call Husband, though we have been separated for over three years, was my boyfriend and roommate back in 1985, us sharing a dilapidated two-story house with another couple. The house, a study in contrast, on the one hand was a thing of beauty, being that it was located merely one block from a decent beach between Swampscott and Nahant on the Atlantic Ocean, while on the other hand, a thing of horror, being that our landlord was a drug dealer who kept trying to get us addicted to hardcore drugs.
Tony, our swarthy Greek landlord, could often be found creeping around our mostly unfurnished side of the monstrosity of a house in the dead of night wearing only a threadbare towel around his waist. In said state, he covertly snuck food from our fridge and peered behind louvered accordion closet doors, looking for God only knows what. The rent was cheap because the four of us were broke as fuck, but that didn’t stop Tony the drug-dealing con artist, from perpetually trying to rip us off in various creative ways. It was either that or his relentless attempts to turn us into his drug-addicted drug-dealing minions.
Only two out of the four of us fell for that.
‘Twas the other couple, high school friends of my then boyfriend. They were ensnared by the old, C’mon, try it. The first one’s free trick. Their addiction, like most, started out small: snorting coke. From there, it progressed to smoking crack out of Tony’s homemade crack pipes, the duo crawling around feeling for phantom crystals dropped deep into filthy shag carpet by the end of most nights. Their highs wore off quickly and transitioned into endless tears and feelings of deep regret and depression as they began to come down. This led to Tony hooking them up with Valium to ease the transition and Imodium to ease diarrhea, a gross side-effect of the combination of drugs. To say the least, they were both useless wrecks—not showing up for work or for anything, really.
Conversations among the four of us typically began with, “Do you have money for the [insert one]: water bill, phone bill, electric bill, heating oil?” And ended with the other couple storming off after, in head-shaking disbelief, one of us said, “I can’t believe we’re arguing over this ... again.”
It wasn’t long before the duo quit eating and caring for themselves physically, both thin as rails, and parents were called in for an intervention, using the landline that fortunately still had a dial tone, which was a miracle during the time of The War of the Bills. Since they were still young, only twenty-three, they were forcibly separated and hauled off to their childhood homes to occupy their childhood bedrooms and be regulated by childhood rules, only with a lot more policing involved.
And then there were two.
My boyfriend and I, a more mature version of twenty-three, were able to afford to stay without replacement-roommates since our rent as a couple remained at $400.00 per month. I think Tony, used to being stiffed by the other couple, forgot that the total rent was $800.00, a bargain in Massachusetts in the mid-80s. We said “NO” to Tony’s continual attempts to addict us to his brand of drugs and place us in the other couple’s territory as low-level distributors with his offers of the first one’s free. To clarify, we said no to the hardcore drugs. Everyone did drugs in the 80s. It was all about making wise choices. We worked hard and paid our bills, partying only on weekends like the majority of recent college grads who were working professionals.
We reached an unspoken agreement with Tony after having to seal an interior door shut, the one that passed between his side of the house, a small unkempt single-story apartment, and our side, a two-story mouse-infested monstrosity lacking furniture—and food after one too many of his midnight food raids. His feelings were hurt by the only term of the agreement, that he was not to wander unencumbered through our side of the house at all hours of the day and night, unless he was invited to enter, like a vampire. Overall, behind a rough and extremely hairy exterior, he seemed to be a sensitive man.
We didn’t see much of him after that. We assumed he was either mostly hunkered down on his side or on the streets selling drugs or assisting his brother Nick with general construction, the legit business they ran as a team. (Nick did all of the legit work.) From time to time, we spotted him creeping around poking through balls of tangled wire, hordes of lumber and boxes of tools and general junk, stacked floor to ceiling in the detached two-car garage at the end of our driveway.
On the first of the month, we would hear his light knock on the side door by the kitchen and open it with our rent checks in hand. He always looked so dejected to the point that I had to harden my heart by remembering the state of the other couple, before closing the door. He never asked for more money. We continued to pay only half of the rent.
This went on until he missed rent collection day a month before our lease was to expire. We were flummoxed. This was out of character for him. His car generally parked in the area where the driveway met the grass—askew—as if a blind maniac had jumped out while the car was still moving, had been glaringly absent for a couple of weeks. We weren’t too concerned. He was a busy man, partnered with brother Nick in the legit construction and slumlord businesses as well as the shady side of things, so we went on with our lives, expecting he would show up when he was desperate for drug money.
Sure enough, about a month after his disappearance on a morning when I was alone, there was a knock at the side door. I looked through the kitchen window, expecting to see Tony, only to lock eyes with one of the two men in rumpled double-breasted suits, as was the style in the mid-80s, patiently waiting with hands folded. I left the safety chain on and cracked the door open enough to see a small portion of each of them while having a conversation.
“Have you seen Tony around,” asked the taller, more stern of the two.
I told them my roommate and I hadn’t seen him in about a month and that the rumor was that he had sold the house and moved out of the country. This was kind of true. My boyfriend and I speculated on this scenario the previous night. It was the only thing that made sense. Either that, or he was buried in a shallow grave or floating face-down in the Mystic River headed towards the Boston Harbor.
The men introduced themselves and showed ID indicating that they were detectives with the local police force. Not Narcs, but something more serious.
Yes. Tony was a wanted man.
Not wanted for dealing drugs. He was wanted for murder. I thought about all of the times he had broken into my home and walked around half-naked, eating my pasta and using my gas-stove to light his crack pipe. That was pretty wretched stuff, but I never would have pegged him for a murderer.
As it turned out, our contemplation was accurate. Tony really had sold the house and left the country, he and brother Nick, both returning to their beloved homeland, Greece. We never saw them again and before we moved, we sold most of the crap he had left in his overfilled detached garage at $1 per item. We made enough money to fund our move halfway across the country, where our landlord was just the usual brand of sketchy. Not a murderer or drug lord.