Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Carpenter

It was the summer of 1988 and Kevin Cross was looking for a place to live. His actress girlfriend Leigh wanted to live in the Hollywood Hills but Los Angeles rents were soaring. "It's too damn expensive," Kevin said. "I'm freelance and you're unemployed. How are we going to afford it?"
     "I had three auditions and a callback last week.  It's only a matter of time."
     "You've been saying that for six months."
     Leigh pouted and Kevin relented.  Their relationship was rocky and maybe a new place above the flatlands of Hollywood was what they needed.
     Kevin scoured the local papers and rental guides. All he could afford was $600 a month and everything north of Sunset Boulevard was more than $1,400. He called a realtor in Laurel Canyon.
     "Do you know anybody who's having a hard time selling their house who might be open to renting?"
     "Well there is this one place..."
     In retrospect, Kevin should have asked some questions.  But he always considered himself a pragmatist and $450 a month sounded pretty good.
     Kevin met the aging realtor halfway up Wonderland Avenue. The home was a two-story stucco townhouse with flaking paint and rusted bars fronting the balcony. It wasn't much to look at but the neighborhood was gorgeous.
     "How long is the lease?"
     "Month to month," the aging realtor said.
     "I'll take it."
     "Don't you want to look inside?"
     "I've seen all I need to see."

     Kevin and Leigh moved in that weekend. There was a bit of a roach problem and the house needed a thorough cleaning but the two were happy with their new digs.

     The nightmares began immediately. Each evening, around 2:30 am, Leigh dreamt of a gray-haired man in his 50's pushing her out of bed. As she stared into his face the man's eyes became blood red and he screamed. Leigh woke up in a cold sweat and Kevin spent the rest of the night trying to calm her down.
     Kevin reasoned that Leigh's dreams had something to do with their recent struggles. Perhaps he was the old man pushing her out of bed. Kevin vowed to be kinder. He bought flowers, cooked dinner and began placing lit candles around the house. Despite his efforts, Leigh's nightmares continued. In one especially horrifying dream the gray-haired man raised a knife and plunged it into Leigh's body. Leigh awoke screaming.
     "We have to move," she said.
     "We're not moving."
     "There's something wrong here."
     "It's the Hollywood Hills.  Isn't this what you wanted?"
     "Either we move together or I go alone. This place is haunted."
     "You're crazy," Kevin said.

     Leigh moved out a week later.
     Kevin was heartbroken but he figured their relationship was doomed anyway.

     A few weeks later on a Saturday morning Kevin was watering plants beside the driveway. A Hollywood Tour Van stopped in front of his house. The tourists stared out the window at Kevin as the driver spoke into a microphone. Kevin couldn't hear what was being said but he reasoned they mistook him for a celebrity. He'd always had a passing resemblance to the actor Richard Dreyfuss.

     The shoe dropped a week later. Kevin was sitting in his living room with a six-pack of beer watching the local news. Suddenly the television screen flashed an image of his townhouse. The TV Anchor spoke with honed gravitas.
     "Tonight marks the seven-year anniversary of the Laurel Canyon Murders. On this night in 1981 four people were savagely murdered in a small home on Wonderland Avenue. The killings involved porn star John Holmes and a local strip club owner who sought revenge for a drug deal gone bad."
     Kevin leaned forward as the television displayed an image of his living room circa 1981, splattered with blood. A body bag rested near the fireplace. Kevin looked toward the very same fireplace just five feet away. A brown stain was visible on the shag carpet. Similar stains dotted the rest of the room.
     "Son of a bitch," Kevin yelled.  He dropped his beer and ran out of the house.
     Though he wore only sandals, shorts and a T-Shirt, he sprinted down Wonderland Avenue as if the house were on fire. He kept running until he reached the realtor's office halfway down Laurel Canyon.
     "What the hell, man? How come you didn't tell me about the murders?"
     The aging realtor was eating a Cup O'Noodles. "Have a seat, please."
     "I don't want a seat. I'm gonna sue your ass."
     "I'm sorry you're upset, sir. But California disclosure laws only apply to home buyers not renters. You have no grounds for a lawsuit."
     "You rented me a possessed house you son of a bitch. My girlfriend left me and tourists think I'm some kind of freak."
     "Calm down, please. We can work something out."
     "What's there to work out? You have me living with psycho ghosts."
     "What would make it right?
     "Huh," Kevin asked.
     "You moved into the house because it was cheap, correct?"
     "Yeah so."
     "So how about if I found you another place for even less?"
     "What is it, some kind of rape house?"
     "Just trust me."

     Two days later Kevin moved into a small bungalow two blocks from the Laurel Canyon Country Store. The place was a bit moldy and it needed a paint job. But it had a backyard and a spacious garage. It also had a lemon tree filled with ripe, beautiful fruit.
     Leigh moved in a week later.
     Kevin asked about the history of the house this time. No murders had happened here. Nor was there a record of torture or kidnapping or animal cruelty. Kevin was confident Leigh would be happy. He also felt the tour vans would stay away. Of course Kevin wasn't crazy about living in Charles Manson's old home. But those were the days when Manson was still trying to make it as a rock star. He hadn't gone off the rails yet. No need to alarm Leigh. Plus, $400 a month was pretty damn good rent. (6" x 6", black ink print)