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Chris recently left Max and Christine's place in Fort Lauderdale and moved into his first apartment near Young Circle in Hollywood. The previous tenant, his landlord told him, was a crack dealer. To pay his $125 weekly rent, Chris works for $7.50 an hour installing floors. The apartment has a small bedroom as well as a kitchen with a mini refrigerator and a two-burner hot plate. His first grocery-shopping trip was a disaster. He bought hamburgers, eggs, and hot dogs but didn't realize until he got home that he had no frying pan and no money left to buy one. It's typical of his hectic life, he says. Nothing seems to go smoothly. His car is constantly threatening to break down, and his girlfriend has another boyfriend. He can't even sleep without disturbance. Every night he hears banging on the wall in addition to the grunts and moans of sex. It's his next-door neighbor, a gay man. "The thing is, it's always a different guy," he laughs.

Chris finds amusement in his hardships, even in the violence. He doesn't know why he seems to be a magnet for street-fighting punks. "I guess they think I'm weird," he says. "It seems like I'm either the most hated person around or the most liked, depending on the day." Drugs are prevalent here, he says, and he's partaken of his share, including "X-rolls," pills containing a mixture of Ecstasy and other narcotics. He's been in a few fights, often when he's "rolling" on those drugs. But he has a way of deconstructing the violence, using it as a social tool. One time, for instance, he argued with two guys on the beach. He doesn't remember the cause of the debate, but he recalls asking where they were from.

"Hard town -- Pittsburgh," one of them replied.

"Well, this is Florida, and we're having a good time," Chris said.

Then the other one hit him in the face.

"You from Pittsburgh too, huh?" Chris asked him, rubbing his face and smiling. He was so high that the punch felt good. His weird reaction confused them. So the guy hit him again, but Chris simply smiled once more. The attackers finally walked away, shaking their heads.

Chris revels in his stories of turning violence upside down. He says he once confronted a kid on the beach named Henry McGonical, who said something he didn't like. "I was rolling, and I got into his face and said, "You got a problem?' He swung, and he got me. I just looked at him and said, "OK, I'm done. We got off on the wrong foot, and you hit me. Who cares? You want to smoke some weed?'"

Chris says he's trying to slow down his drug use these days, especially after what happened to McGonical, whom he ultimately befriended. At a party April 9, the 19-year-old McGonical overdosed on a mixture of pills and beer, then choked to death on his vomit. Broward medical examiners are awaiting toxicology reports.

For Chris, Henry's death illustrates the fine line between a good time and mortal danger. His March 18 beach beating falls into the same category. It wasn't any fun at all. After his nose was broken, roughly 45 minutes passed before medics arrived to treat him. He left a puddle of blood on A1A. His hospital stay was agonizing. Doctors inserted balloons and other painful objects into his nose to open his nasal passages. He had to stay 48 hours because the bleeding wouldn't stop. He missed a week's work, and his face was swollen and discolored for days.

The alleged crime was aggravated battery, a felony offense, but the police never followed up on Chris's complaint. There was no investigation, even though the department has stepped up its presence on the beach and promised to crack down on violent offenses, which nearly doubled last year. Department spokesman Mike Reed concedes more should have been done about Chris's battery case. "It was never forwarded to anybody," Reed says. "It should have been given to a detective."

Max, who drove Chris to the hospital and held his hand during some of the most painful moments, says he and his son spent hours trying to reach detectives without success. Messages weren't returned.

So the Caulfields have decided to find Dreads and the other attackers themselves. The plan is simple: return to the scene of the crime.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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