The One Hundred-Thirty-Three Steps
by Jeff Baker
“We gotta be out of our minds!” Karl said gawking up at the stairway.
“Yeah, but those are the stairs. THE stairs,” Johnny said.
“We gotta haul all that stuff up those stairs,” Karl said.
“Yeah, but it’s better than hauling a piano.” Johnny said.
Karl Melvin and Johnny Garcia were the sole owner-operators of Karl & Johnny’s We Move It. (“Specializing in hauling anything anywhere,” their print ad said.) They could barely afford the ad let alone rent on their office. The office was in one of L. A.’s ancient buildings across the street from a sprawling electronics complex.
“Let’s do this,” Johnny said.
Their van was parked down the street there in Silver Lake, they couldn’t park near the stairs so they had to carry the heavy boxes from the van, to the stairs, up the stairs and to a flatbed truck. Then they handed it off to a couple of guys who tossed it on the truck.
Johnny had asked why they didn’t drive the van up to the top of the hill, “that’s what happened in the movie” and he was told that the boss wanted it done this way.
“Here’s another nice mess you got us into,” Karl said with a grin as they passed each other on the famous stairs.
Johnny was a huge Laurel and Hardy fan. He had a poster of them on the office wall. He’d cried when he saw the biopic on the comedy team a few years before. He could even tell you how many steps there were on the staircase (“One hundred and thirty-three.”) There was no way he was going to turn down a job actually doing this. Even though they were moving slower as the morning dragged into afternoon. A pickup truck had driven up and parked by Johnny and Karl’s van. A pickup piled with more of the twenty-five pound bags of sand.
“Here’s the rest of it,” the driver had said, wearing the same t-shirt as the two guys with the flatbed truck. Then the driver had gone off with a guy in another pickup.
“Hey, why are we hauling this stuff up the Laurel and Hardy stairs?” Karl joked as they passed by each other.
When Karl came down the stairs after dropping off the latest bag he found Johnny leaning against the pickup truck.
“Why are we carrying those bags of sand up the stairs?” Johnny said with a grim expression as Karl hoisted another bag onto his shoulder.
“Give me a minute,” Johnny said with a grim expression. “I’ll be right with you.”
Karl glanced back as he started up the stairs. Johnny was talking on his phone.
It seemed like the pickup was getting more full instead of emptying out. It felt like hours later and the pickup was nearly empty when Karl and Johnny found a police car at the top of the hill with a couple of officers arresting the two men in the matching shirts. Once they identified themselves, the officers told Karl and Johnny they had gotten Johnny’s call.
“You guys were right,” the officer said. “They knew you couldn’t resist really working at the Laurel and Hardy stairs. While they were keeping you busy here, their accomplices broke into your office. Seems they found that they could use some equipment they had to eavesdrop on the electronics plant across the street from there. I heard something about a U. S. Embassy years ago that in the right spot to do a little electronic eavesdropping on a supposedly secure transmission. And that’s what happened here.”
Johnny and Kurt had to go down to the police station and fill out a report, and call someone to repair the door to their office. They were convinced the check they got for doing that hauling was going to bounce all over the place.
“Like it was printed by Wham-O,” Karl had said.
Still, they treated themselves to pizza and a beer when the day was done.
“Well,” Johnny said, raising his glass. “Here’s to another nice mess.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The stairs, featured in “The Music Box,” are still there in Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Ray Bradbury set a couple of stories around those stairs so how could I resist with the stair picture for this week’s prompt.
Oh, and the story of the U. S. Embassy being able to electronically eavesdrop on another embassy from its position is true. ——-jsb December 4, 2021.