The guy we found living in our house when we returned to Vieques that October afternoon didn’t look remotely dangerous but you never knew.
“What happened to the place you were staying in before?” Michael asked.
“I kinda got asked to leave,” Kevin replied, blushing demurely.
I digested this less-than-encouraging piece of information. “That’s not good,” I said.
“I know. Another embarrassment.”
“So Jane said I could stay here.” He smiled for the first time. “She sure did. Good old Jane.”
…but I could see how Kevin might feel beholden to her.
“Speaking of good old Jane,” I said, “I think I’ll give her a call.
To her credit, and (yes, I admit) my intense satisfaction, Jane was mortified.
“I thought you weren’t coming in till tomorrow!”
“Not unless tomorrow’s the 5th,” I responded glibly.
She had the good grace to laugh. “Oh my god,” she moaned. “And now you’ve got poor homeless Kevin on your hands.”
“But probably just for two or three days at the most.”
I was speechless. “Listen Jane…” I began.
“Got you!” she yelped (I was beginning to wonder if she’d finally succumbed to the island’s intense October heat). “I’m joking,” she said in a less manic tone. “Just making a little joke. Put him on the phone. I’ll have him out of there in a jiff.”
I handed the phone to Kevin, who had been following our conversation with the expression of a dog waiting to find out if he’ll be allowed to spend the night by the fire or be cast out into the blizzard.
“Hello,” he mumbled, his voice quivering slightly. He listened, mouth slightly agape, as Jane talked. “Okay,” he said in the same flat voice, then handed the phone back to me.
“He’ll be out of your hair in thirty minutes flat,” Jane informed me, all business now. “But it’ll take longer for me to round up Lydia and bring her over to clean up the place. Probably a couple of hours.”
I did the math. That would mean Lydia would be vacuuming and dusting at 6 p.m.
“You know what,” I said, “we’ll just do it ourselves and save the money.”
Jane was aghast. “But the bathroom,” she wailed. “I’m not having you clean up Kevin’s mess.”
“Hey, it’s fine, just relax,” I said, walking toward the bathroom. It couldn’t be that bad.
“Oh Jesus,” I said, almost involuntarily. It was an absolute pigsty.
“Tell me,” she intoned breathlessly, as if we were discussing porn.
I gulped. “Pretty grim.”
“Save it for me. I’m on my way.”
I did as I was told. She had chosen the bathroom as her penance.
Who was I to interfere?
By the time Jane got there, Michael and I had stripped the bed, cleaned up the kitchen and swept the whole house. Jane knocked off the bathroom in a jiff. Then we sat down for a celebratory drink.
“So what do you think of the staircase?” she asked, clearly proud of what she’d accomplished.
“We love it.”
She sat back with a contented sigh. “I have to admit that was one painful project.”
“It must have been awful when they brought it over the first time and it didn’t fit.”
Jane nodded, flashing back to the moment. “Alfredo was crushed. He came to me with tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Miss Jane, the circle ladder do not fit.’”
“’Circle ladder’?” Michael repeated.
“That was his translation of ‘spiral staircase.’”
In a weird sort of way, it made sense.