Neither Ruby nor Jam had a legitimate job. One that didn't involve the doorbell ringing at 3 a.m. and secret handshakes. They did have a huge black SUV protected with elaborate alarm system with a hair trigger. Whoop-whoop. It must be raining. Whooop. A firetruck drove past. They also had two vicious dogs that looked less like pets, and more like something that wanted to play tug-of-war with your lower intestine.
I liked Ruby about as much as you can like anyone who might stab you, which is with the big fake smile of the terrified. She had stopped paying rent about two months after she moved in, and seemed fearless in the face of eviction. She may not have known how to spell Jerry Springer's name, but she was MENSA when it came to rental laws.
Ruby would stop me on the steps and tell me something like this:
"Yeah, I was just in jail for three days."
"Yeah. I got pulled over in Minneapolis."
"No reason. They just pulled me over. Then they threw me in jail because some girl stole my ID and got a DUI and used my name and there was a warrant for my arrest."
"Yeah, so they impounded my car."
"How did you get back here?"
"Some guy ... Jam's still in jail."
About this point of the conversation, a man would limp up the front steps -- a friend of Ruby's -- carrying speakers and ask us if either of us wanted to buy a stereo for 20 bucks. You could practically see the steam coming off of it. The owner probably didn't even know it was missing yet.
"Um, no thanks."
Jam, on the other hand, looked harmless. A wimpy version of lanky skinny that made him seem like he had at least six elbows. One time I saw him get into a fight in the front yard. His frantic flailing and the strip of underwear hanging out of his pants gave the whole scene an elementary school playground vibe. He was probably worse than Ruby, though. Three times a day he would tap on the door and ask to borrow a cell phone. Ask for cigarettes. A couple bucks. When we weren't home, he stopped strangers as they walked down Fourth Street.
My former landlord tried to evict them. But this process involves more than just putting a note on their door and taking their TV, which he didn't realize. It involved court dates and documentation. It takes weeks. Ruby and Jam sat on the front steps smoking Marb Lites while they're housing tab went up every day. People would come over, Ruby would lead them to the Denali parked in front of the house. They would get inside, and play the same heavy-bass song on repeat for about 15 minutes. The visitors would leave. Ruby would go back to her spot on the porch. This went on all day every day. Sometimes my doorbell would ring at 3 a.m., and a man who looked like Mr. Miagi would be standing there blinking.
"Bottom doorbell," I'd tell him. Again and again and again.
Sometimes men in hooded sweatshirts would come inside, clomp up to the second floor and rat-tat-tat on my door.
"Gotanyweed?" they would mumble.
"Wrong apartment," I'd say, watching them through the peep hole.
One night I came home late on the day that Ruby and Jam had been given 24-hour notice to get out. There were three police cars parked in front of the duplex, cops lined up on the steps like they were part of an a capella choir. A few were scattered through the yard.
"I live here," I said. "What's going on?"
Ruby's mom was in the entry way and I got a version of the story. Jam had beaten the shit out of Ruby with a baseball bat. She had been whisked away by ambulance. Both jaws were broken. Jam was missing. I handed them a key to the apartment, and the lead cops recoiled in horror when the door swung open. There was dog shit everywhere. Ground into the carpeting. Large piss stains. Two hungry dogs growling and drooling.
Ruby's mom searched for her daughter's purse, one hand cupped over her nose and mouth. Policemen gagged. There was no sign of Jam anywhere. Later I would find out that Jam had been hiding in the unfinished basement. He'd burrowed into a concrete and dirt cubby in his storage area. This would give me nightmares for weeks.
"Call us if you see him," they told me, and left.
Ruby's mom promised to come back in the morning and clean out the apartment. When I saw Ruby again, her face was the color of sherbert and her jaw was wired shut. Then I never saw her again.
A few weeks later I woke up on a Sunday morning to a half-dozen men dressed in camouflage skulking around the yard. They were bounty hunters, hungry to kick down doors, and they were looking for Ruby. I sat on my steps and told them everything I knew about her: The Denali, the dogs, the baseball bat. They told me she was going to be locked up for a very long time.
As for Jam, he showed up late one night looking for my then-roommate. While my roommate talked to him through the open window, I called 911, like I'd been advised. When I called back to tell them that he'd headed East in an SUV, the dispatcher told me that Jam had been cleared of all charges. There were no warrants, nothing. I saw him again, walking downtown.
"What happened that night?" I asked him.
"Ruby had a knife," he said. "She was trying to kill me."
Anyway. I saw Ruby at the grocery store yesterday.