[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. -- Jane]
The voice on the other end of the phone had the authority of a cop but the discretion of a psychologist. I stiffened at detective Reynolds’ standard opening line. “Do you know why I’m contacting you?”
I hesitated for a moment, flipping through my mental Rolodex of illegal activities. Was it my Craigslist ad requesting child models? Illustrating children’s books was a tricky business, especially when I didn’t have any kids in my family. I decided to play dumb.
“No. I have no idea.”
“Does the name Jack Chase mean anything to you?”
By the end of the conversation, I was a quivering mess in the center of my bed.
My first encounter with “The Man Who Lived with a Corpse” was six months after my spontaneous and ill advised move to the west coast. Bored, lonely, and in love, I left a depressing existence at my father’s house in Pennsylvania to resume my former, and similarly pathetic, life in California. I did graphic design work in exchange for a place to sleep, and my only vehicle was my housemate’s rusty bicycle.
I met Jack because of the bicycle. Desperately in need of a sleeker form of transportation, I followed a Craigslist ad titled “BIKE GARAGE SALE” across the San Lorenzo River and into a sickening murder mystery.
Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived for 26 years. I’m shy and painfully polite, even to a gentleman who once mistook me for a prostitute. I’m far too trusting. I also have a bizarre tendency to poke through piles of trash in front of people’s houses. This habit has been unpopular with boyfriends, but I can’t help it! I come from a long line of garbage pickers, and the majority of my household appliances originated on the side of the road.
When my rusty set of wheels squeaked up to the equally dilapidated Ocean View Apartment Complex, all that remained of what might have been a yard sale was a pile of rusty junk. Unable to restrain myself, I began sifting through the heap.
I wasn’t startled when an older man with bags under his eyes materialized beside me. Jack and I discussed the minutia of my bike shopping criteria, and he produced a Giant mountain bike for me to test ride up and down his street. He assured me I couldn’t afford that bike, but I should purchase a mountain bike.
On a road bike, I would fall and “break my pretty face.” His inventory was lacking that day, but if I shared my phone number he would call when he found something suitable.
A middle-aged bleach-blonde woman passed us on her way into the building. She exchanged a few words with Jack, and he patted me on the shoulder as he introduced us. I would never see the woman again.
The next 30 minutes progressed from unnerving to creepy. Jack stood too close to me and talked nonstop, not pausing long enough for me to excuse myself. I wasn’t interested in the used cars that he was selling, but he described each one in detail anyway. He commented on my figure. He proudly unveiled his collection of baby chickens that lived in the back of a filthy black SUV. (I cringe when I think about what may have happened to those poor chicks).
I fled the scene about 45 minutes after arriving, short one business card and ashamed of my own politeness.
In the first voicemail, Jack offered me $25 to drive that black SUV to Watsonville for him. He preferred to hire people who had driver’s licenses. I didn’t respond.
In the second voicemail, left well after midnight, he drunkenly invited me to join him in a hot tub and escape with him in a new RV that he had just purchased.
I deleted the next four voicemails without listening to them.
The seventh time he called, I answered with a shaking voice.
“If you call me again, I will contact the police.”
“Now Kelly, if you’re gonna be like that--”
I hung up and blocked his number. I consulted a sexual predator database to ensure that he wasn’t convicted. I didn’t tell my family about my experience, and I probably never will.
Three months passed before I heard about Jack again. Detective Reynolds called my cell phone, curious about why my number had appeared repeatedly in his phone records. At first, she asked me not to read the news.
Around the time of my visit, Jack had allegedly beaten a 30-year-old woman to death in his apartment and kept her corpse on his bed until neighbors complained of the stench to the police. Detective Reynolds wanted to know whether or not I had seen the victim alive while I was at the apartment complex.
In the next few days, I visited the police station to browse a lineup of photos, trying to identify the woman that I had met briefly outside Jack’s apartment. I scoured Facebook and my Gchat conversations with friends to figure out exact dates. In the end I found that I didn’t have a lot of useful information, especially because I had deleted the voicemails.
Beyond the initial shock, the entire ordeal has left me mostly unshaken and apparently no smarter. Within a month, I followed another Craigslist ad to an empty house where a middle-aged man sold me a lovely pink mountain bike. This time, the person on the other side of the Internet turned out to be a wonderful social worker who helps underprivileged children rebuild bicycles.
Two years later, Jack is sitting in a California prison awaiting trial on charges of murder. I’m in graduate school on the east coast; I’m starting this semester with a self-defense class. Craigslist has since introduced me to two people who would become my best friends, numerous kind strangers and thousands of dollars in graphic design work.
Overall, I believe that the good on the Internet still shines through the greasy film of mediocrity and creepiness. And I’ve seen Craigslist at its worst.
***Names have been changed to protect privacy