Felipe balled up his hands and stuffed them into the pockets of his jacket. People said it was always warm in Southern California, but not at six-thirty on a late November morning. At least it wasn’t warm by his standards. He didn’t like the cold, but hopefully he wouldn’t be outdoors for long. Oscar, Diego and Antonio, the guys he usually waited with, had already been picked up for a local contracting job. But that company only needed three workers. Now it was just him and Rafael. The group of them usually started at six, because that was when the contractors went to The Do-It-Yourself Place to get building materials. They’d wait outside, just off the store’s property, to see if anyone needed extra day help.
At least the weather boded well. It was bright and sunny, which meant landscapers and builders would be out in full force. So would the do-it-yourself types who found they got more than they bargained for with their home improvement projects. Felipe was pretty sure he’d find something. Just then, a late-model Lincoln pulled over nearby and the driver got out. Salt-and-pepper hair, sunshades, brand-name light jacket. He walked over to Felipe and Rafael.
‘I need some help moving some furniture this morning. One man, one hour.’
By mutual consent, it was Felipe’s turn, so he stepped forward. He was glad the man spoke in Spanish, because he didn’t speak very much English yet. ‘I can do it,’ he said.
The man looked him over, nodded and gestured towards the Lincoln.
As they approached the car, Felipe’s new employer stuck his hand out and said, ‘Pete.’
‘OK, Felipe, here’s what I need. I’ve got a sofa and a large matching chair that I need to get rid of, but I can’t do it myself. You help me throw them away, you get twenty dollars.’
Felipe and Pete got into the car and in a moment were on their way.
After about a ten-minute ride, they pulled up at a nice-looking house. It wasn’t a mansion, but it looked well-kept.
‘Here we are,’ Pete said as he stopped the engine. He and Felipe got out of the car and went inside. Right past the entrance was a living room. ‘The furniture’s in here,’ Pete said, gesturing towards the room. Felipe walked past Pete into the room and then saw the body lying on the floor, with the upended handbag next to it.
For a moment he stood, frozen, at the entrance to the living room. She was young-looking, with long curly black hair and a nice body. She was probably pretty while she was alive. Not now, though. Not after what the strangling had done to her face. Felipe looked from the body back to Pete. This time, Pete was holding a gun and pointing it at him.
‘Now here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get this sofa and chair out of here, just like I said. That’s all you need to worry about for right now. And don’t do anything stupid.’
The two men spent the next fifteen minutes carrying first the chair and then the sofa out of the house and leaving them by the curb; pickup day would be the next day. Pete made no obvious gestures, but Felipe knew he had the gun ready to use. When they were done, Pete said, ‘Now, let’s go back inside.’
Felipe went first, with Pete following closely behind.
When they got inside the house, Pete reached into his pocket and said, ‘Nothing against you personally, but I don’t have a choice. You came in here, you killed my wife, I caught you and shot you. That’s what I’m going to –’
Felipe swung as hard as he could at Pete’s chest, knocking the wind out of him. As Pete struggled to catch his breath, Felipe pushed him up against the fireplace and banged his head against it. Not enough to do serious damage, but he’d have one hell of a headache when he came to. How stupid did this guy think he was? After what Felipe had gone through with the coyote who’d brought him over the border, dealing with Pete was nothing.
But he still ought to do something about the gun, which had fallen out of Pete’s pocket onto the floor. It was a little too close for comfort right next to the unconscious man. He shoved it away with his foot. Then he left the living room and went outside. He’d need to get out of here quickly, before anyone really noticed him, so he started walking.
As he passed the furniture on the curb, he noticed again a long tear on the underside of one of the cushions. In the outdoor light he saw something he hadn’t seen when he was bringing it out. Glancing around quickly to make sure nobody was watching, he slid his hand in. Out came an envelope. He didn’t want to call attention to himself so he put it into his jacket pocket. Then he started walking again.
Within two blocks he’d gotten to a bus stop. No-one else was there, which was just what Felipe wanted. He pulled the envelope out of his pocket and looked inside. He hadn’t seen that much money since he’d paid the coyote. There must be ten thousand dollars there! He shoved the envelope back into his pocket when a bus pulled up, and got on it. He had to make a transfer, but forty minutes later he was back at The Do-It-Yourself Place. It wouldn’t be long now before he could bring Lupe and their daughter Cecelia to live with him.
Two hours later, Brian and Vince pulled up to the house. ‘He better have it,’ Brian muttered as they went to the door.
‘His funeral if he don’t,’ Vince said. Then he knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again, this time harder. Still no answer. After a minute he tried the door. It wasn’t locked. Weird, but it did make their job easier.
Brian and Vince went into the living room just as Pete was drfiting back into painful consciousness.
‘What the hell happened to you?’ Brian asked him. ‘You owe somebody else, too?’
Pete shook his head and struggled to sit up.
‘You got our money?’
‘I did,’ Pete croaked. ‘Trina took it. She wouldn’t tell me what she did with it.’
‘See, that don’t help us very much,’ Vince said.
‘No, I don’t think that’s going to be enough,’ Brian said.
Pete slumped back to the floor.