Beach Beat

When Chris Caulfield got stomped near South Florida's most notorious nightclub, he didn't roll over

With two buds of marijuana cupped in his right hand and a black, one-hit pipe in his pocket, 18-year-old Christopher Caulfield strolls up the broad sidewalk along Fort Lauderdale beach. Wearing black pants and a white tank top over his fair skin, the tall, thin kid is looking for some fun. Designer prescription glasses perched on his long, patrician nose, Chris is hungry for human contact after spending all Saint Patrick's Day sanding, pouring glue, and laying vinyl floors. He is off the floor now and, after two bottles of malt liquor, ready to get high.

Walking the strip, with the dark ocean to his right and lines of cars and throngs of people to his left, Chris approaches Club Atlantis, a controversial nightspot that admits 18-year-olds. It's 2 a.m. March 18, and Atlantis is throbbing; electronic beats pump from huge amps, and a line comprised mostly of young people snakes from its doors. On the sidewalk across the street from Atlantis, Chris notices a white kid with a goatee whom he's met before. With that kid are two black guys, one wearing a blue bandanna and red hat and the other, whom Chris vaguely recognizes, with shoulder-length dreadlocks. Also milling about are two white girls, one wearing a blue fishing hat.

Chris walks up to the goateed guy and asks him, "You want to smoke some weed?"

Going after his son's attackers was nothing new for Max Caulfield. He does such things for a living.
Michael McElroy
Going after his son's attackers was nothing new for Max Caulfield. He does such things for a living.

"That's a cop," someone in the group remarks of Chris.

The accusation sparks some debate among the group as to whether Chris is a narc. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department is surely out in force on the beach, trying to curtail the rising crime rate, but Chris says he is no cop, though he someday aspires to be one. Trying to settle the group down, Chris points at the dreadlocked guy, whom he remembers is sometimes called "Dreads."

"I've met you before out here," Chris says to him.

Dreads locks eyes with Chris. "Usually when somebody points at me, I knock their face in," he announces calmly.

"Sorry... I didn't mean anything by it," says Chris, who, at six foot two, is shorter than Dreads.

"That's OK," Dreads replies. "You got a warning."

After more debate Chris announces again that he isn't a cop. The goateed kid believes him, so the two of them walk onto the sand and sit down facing the sea, where moonlight glitters off the black water. In the darkness Chris breaks off a piece of one of the marijuana buds, stuffs it in the one-hitter, and lights up.

Soon the rest of the group walks toward them. Chris looks up and makes out Dreads standing in front of him. The blue-hatted girl eyes Chris and says to Dreads, "Say the word, and I'll have it done." Chris takes this as another threat. She's talking about kicking his ass.

"You don't like me very much, do you?" Chris asks, looking up at her.

"No, I don't," she answers.

"Why not?"

"I don't like the way you come up to everybody like you know them."

"Sorry I'm such a nice guy."

Trying to find some common ground with his antagonist, Chris asks where the girl is from. New York and Tacoma, she tells him. Chris, who is from Washington state, asks if she knows Gig Harbor. She does.

"Well, that's where I'm from."

"This ain't no Gig Harbor, motherfucker," she says.

"Well, if you don't like me for who I am, then fuck you," Chris says matter-of-factly, getting higher on the weed and feeling good despite the tension. The red-hatted black guy steps up to Chris.

"Now you probably have a grudge against me," Chris says to him, "because you think me and her have a problem."

The next thing Chris sees is the tread of a boot coming down on his face. It's from Dreads' direction. Chris says he'll never forget the boot tread, which still flashes in his memory like a blurry photograph. It had little plus signs on it.

Chris is too stunned to take cover. His $450 Tommy Hilfiger glasses break on his face. By the time he finally tucks his head down for cover, his nose is cracked. But the kicks keep coming. At least four people jump into the fray and stomp on him. Chris, trying to dodge the blows, lies on his side and kicks his legs to run circles in the sand. He hears laughter. Someone yells, "Shut up!" Another person says, "Fuckin' take that!" He has a knife in his pocket, but it does him no good because he can't get to it. So he just tries to escape, moving wherever the resistance is least. Finally he breaks out and runs to the light.

Blood pours from his broken nose, and his face swells as he staggers onto the strip. People stare at him as if he's just killed someone. No one offers help. He throws the pipe and the bud, still clenched in his fist, onto the pavement, then looks for police.

After two days in the hospital and $10,000 in medical bills, which he has no idea how he's going to pay, Chris wants to see Dreads and the other attackers behind bars. But he has little chance for justice. Fort Lauderdale police wrote a report but didn't investigate; Chris was just another punk kid in a fight. But he didn't let law enforcement's inaction stop him. After a bizarre and uprooted childhood in the witness-protection program, he knows a little something about bad guys. His father testified against the Mafia, and Chris figures bad guys pretty much messed up his boyhood.

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