By Andrew Ramirez
Late Thursday afternoon, two weeks before Halloween and about six months after the Craig’s list killer had been apprehended, my friend Max and I were in my truck on the freeway, then some side streets, and finally a narrow road, winding up Beverly Hills in a nice neighborhood. Max had a ripped piece of paper with an address scrawled on it.
“We’re here,” Max said.
“Are you sure?” I stopped the car but left the engine running. “Do I honk the horn?”
“Of course not.”
“I’ll wait here.”
“I need backup on this one.”
“You’re on your own. I’m just the driver. It’s my truck. Captain stays with the ship”
“Please don’t be a jerk right now.”
I shut off the engine. “If he puts you in the well, text me. I’ll go running for help.”
Max had answered a Craig’s list post for a sofa that had been advertised as a freebie. He had been in contact with the man, Bill, through emails and they had finally set the pick-up date. But I wasn’t involved with any of this until later, when Max showed up to my apartment and asked if I could drive him to pick up the sofa.
“Just take the truck,” I had said.
“I need a helper. I can’t do this alone.” Max explained the situation, and even quoted a few of Bill’s emails.
“You know a guy in Boston killed someone he found on Craig’s list. He’s in jail now.”
“Good. So it should be safe.”
“What about copycats,” I said. “Sometimes they’re even crazier.”
“October got you spooked or what?”
“Halloween is coming up.”
“Don’t believe in that shit.” And we both got in the car and started to drive.
But now we were in front of the house. Max is a tall guy even though he’s thinner now. But when we were in the truck outside of the house in Beverly Hills, before Max lost all that weight, he was tall and big. Before Max lost all that weight, he was a thick piece of white flesh, wide at the shoulders and hips, brown and faded freckles on his white skin, dirt under his fingernails, and I figured at least we’d put up a fight.
“Seriously,” Max said. “How crazy could he really be?”
The house in the Hills was nice. But it looked dark inside the large windows and the garden space in front of the house did not have any plants or flowers. The house was at the top of a hill, or as close to the top as you could get before a closed, motor-powered fence kept you from going any higher. But we were high enough, Los Angeles spread out all below us in a sepia haze and serving as a backdrop to the dark house where some man had offered a free couch to whoever—I was quickly starting to realize—was stupid enough to take the bait.
Max rang the doorbell once, then again. From outside I could hear the bell’s echo move through the halls and large rooms of the house.
“Maybe nobody’s home.” I started back towards the truck. In an hour it would be dark.
Max rang again, waited. The door knob jerked then twisted. The door cracked open.
“Hello,” a face said, floating in the darkness of the house. Bill’s face, I assumed.
“Max,” Max said. “From the email. I’m here for the couch.”
Bill had a round, old-looking face with two bright green serpentine eyes. He was wearing what looked like a robe and smelled heavily of cologne. He left the chain on the door.
“It’s in the front. Didn’t you see it?” Bill said.
I surveyed the front yard. There was nothing there. Max came the to the same conclusion.
“Oh,” Bill said. “I forgot. It’s in the back. Please come in.”
Bill closed the door and unchained it and this time opened it fully. Bill was wearing a robe, but it was a short robe and you could see his jeans from the knee down. He was barefoot.
“I should have put the couch out this morning but I forgot. And anyway, I’m hardly ever here. It’s getting sold soon. I’m only here when I know I can expect someone.”
We walked through the house, in the dark with only a little natural light coming through the windows. The house smelled like old clothes, untouched and frozen in dust. In the living room there were large, geometric objects covered in bedsheets, and the more we walked the more things came into focus.
“They cut the power to this house a while ago,” Bill said. “So I try to come during the day only. I’ll probably walk out with you. I hate this house. It gives me a bad feeling.” He stopped and and looked at us. “Does it give you a bad feeling too?”
“It’s beautiful,” Max lied.
“I hate this house. I’ll give it to you for free.”
“Really?” I said.
“Of course not. My father would rise from the grave and whack me with an axe for every dollar he lost out on.” Then Bill threw open a ceiling-to-floor velour curtain, opened a sliding door, and we walked to the backyard.
The couch was on the porch in the backyard. It was dark red and in good shape.
“Need a little help taking it to your car?” Bill asked.
“We got it.”
“I didn’t know you were bringing a friend,” Bill looking at Max. “But I’m glad you didn’t come alone. I would hate to see someone get hurt tonight.”
Max and I started to lift the couch. I braced myself for the scythe, the lead pipe, the baseball baseball bat, or whatever it was that’s supposed to come down on your head after someone says something like that.
“The legs,” Bill said. “Lift with the legs, not the back.”
The couch was as heavy as it looked and we walked back through the house in the dark with the edges of it straining our hands and forearms, pressed into our stomachs.
“Where are you boys from?” Bill said.
Instinctively I said, “Texas,” but Max was from up north somewhere in the bay area.
“No, silly,” Bill giggled. “What part of LA are you two from?”
“We go to school here,” Max cut in, picking up the pace towards the open front door.
“UCLA?” Bill’s green eyes, picking up the last rays of sun through the dirty windows, were glowing.
“USC,” Max said.
“Good,” Bill said, making an up and down stabbing motion with his right hand. “I hate the Bruins.”
Max and I took the freeway back to his apartment but drove slowly because the couch had cushions that might fly off. When we got back, we unloaded the sofa, staggered up three flights of stairs with it, put it in the middle of Max’s living room, and sat our asses on it and started drinking Corona. Max turned on the TV.
“What’s the difference between a couch and a sofa,” Max said.
“Is this a joke?”
“No. I just want to know.”
“They’re the same thing I’m pretty sure.”
“One just sounds fancier?”
“More importantly,” I said. “If that guy didn’t have electricity in his house, how’d he post the couch on Craig’s list?”
“How does he charge it in a house with no power?”
“Probably has another house. Didn’t he say something about that? Did you get the impression he was very rich?”
“Rich guy with no electricity?” I said. “I’m just glad we’re not dead.”
“We should go back and see if he has anything else for free.”
“Sofa,” I said, running the sound of it on my tongue, feeling the soft couch underneath me, sinking in to it and trying to stay awake for as long as possible, as if falling asleep on it meant it would cut out my tongue and run a string through it and wear it as a necklace.