Follow by Email

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A STORY OF DANCE


A Story of Dance
By Lee Morgan



I think a lot of people misunderstand the term “broke.”

Sometimes I hear people talk about how broke they are and then, in the same sentence, talk about how they are taking their girlfriend out to dinner that night. I always want to grab them by the arm and say, “I thought you said you were broke?”
But of course I don’t do that. How inappropriate.
But when I say I’m broke, which is most of the time these days, I mean it. Today I’m broke. It is one of those days when I am just thankful that I paid off my car years ago and that it still runs pretty good. Looking over at the Ziplock baggie full of change in the passenger’s seat of my convertible 1987 Chrysler LeBaron I realize that today I will eat lunch. I don’t get to do that everyday. I also know, quickly doing a count of the change in the bag –- the silver, not the pennies – that I can get two chicken sandwiches and a large soda from the value menu at the drive-thru and still have enough to buy the paper out of the box out front.
I always get the paper. When you no longer have cell phone service because it has been shut off and there is no Internet available outside of the public library, you want to get the paper. It’s not only for the crosswords or to keep up with what the normal world is doing. It’s for the help wanted ads. There are fewer ads than there once were. Nowadays most folks put those ads online only. But the newspaper still has some local jobs in there, and I apply for them all. Not that I’ve had any luck lately.
Nobody wants a college graduate with 15 years of management experience for an entry-level job. They assume you’ll quit when something better comes along. They’d be right if there was anything better. But right now I’d take a job cleaning toilets for minimum wage.
As for the better jobs, which are rare to say the least, you have to be so specialized that unless you majored in coffee shop management in college you can’t get a job managing a coffee shop. Apparently it was not so niche-specific in 1997. I know it wasn’t. A management degree could get you a job managing any kind of business usually. But those days are gone, unless you know somebody on the inside… and I don’t know many people.
Fresh out of college with a degree in business management 15 years ago I went to work as the assistant manager of Dan’s Radio World. I’m not sure why.
Stop.
That’s a lie. I know exactly why. Two reasons.
They offered me more money than anyone else did at the time and the general manager was a smoking hot redhead named Samantha. When she offered me the job I had visions of sleeping my way to the top.
“Do me again, baby,” she’d say. “Do me again and I’ll get you another $3 per hour and a 401(k).”
Of course that never happened.
In fact, she never even flirted with me. Not surprising. When you are 5-foot-5 and 300 pounds with a natural white man’s ‘fro akin to John C. Reilly’s you don’t typically attract the babes. But good God, what a babe she was.
The actual reason she was hiring an assistant was because she already had plans to take a position in Louisville where Dan Murphy, the namesake of said Radio World, was opening a new store. The Nashville store had been wildly successful and he wanted Samantha’s face in the commercials and in the store when it opened in six months. That was just enough time to get me up to speed so that I could run the whole outfit in her absence. And that is exactly what I did.
We had record profits the first year I was at the helm and my salary climbed a bit higher until I was making what now seems to be a “whopping” $36,000 per year.
It may not sound like a lot to the fella taking his girlfriend out to dinner tonight that I mentioned earlier, but considering it is April and I’ve only made about a thousand bucks all year, it seems like a fortune.
The shitty economy finally took its toll on the business and cutbacks started about two years ago. It was shortly after that when Dan stepped back in from his semi-retired lifestyle and started running the store again. My salary had to go, and he offered me a severance package if I’d quit. I did, thinking I’d get another job without a problem. I agreed to quit the job for an under the table cash payoff of $2500. Big mistake. It ended up being impossible for me to draw unemployment when I couldn’t find work. And the search continues.
Since then I have lost all the perks of normal life. The cell phone went first; then the Internet service, then the water, electricity and finally the apartment.  All I had left was the LeBaron and about $300 cash.
My parents wanted to help and said I could move in with them. That really wasn’t a great situation. They have a very small, no tiny, place.
In addition, my parents were living on Social Security only and were in no position to help me financially.
Still, after a month of hopping from couch to couch at friends houses I began to feel like a burden. I made an arrangement with my parents so that I would have a place to stay at night without intruding on their space. They insisted I sleep on the couch, but I refused.
There is an old shed out behind their house that used to serve as lawnmower storage and such. I tidied it up and made my own little efficiency out of it. I still go inside for the bathroom and shower and things like that, but I stay out of their way and sleep in the shed. It works out fine. It’s amazing what you can get used to.
Even with all of that in place, life was still rough. I had run out of cash and was down to a quarter tank of gasoline in the LeBaron when I first had the thought of how to scrape by until something good happened.  And I was convinced it would eventually.
I had just left another of the countless interviews I’d been on where the hiring manager told me he was “reluctant to hire such an overqualified candidate.” It was interview-talk for, “get lost you fat bastard.”
I pulled over in the nearly empty parking lot in front of a Kmart and rested my head on the steering wheel until the tears came. And they continued to come for a long time.
Then a song came on the radio that, for some reason,  just made me want to move.
I haven’t told you about the stereo system in the LeBaron.
As the general manager of Dan’s Radio World, I got all the stereo gear I wanted at wholesale prices. It was a steal. I had a system in my car that was easily worth three times what the car was. If I dropped the top on the convertible and cranked up a tune on this system, you could hear it in perfect quality from a mile away at least.
I had recently thought about selling off the equipment, likely at such a discount that it’d make my wholesale price seem expensive. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but when you go to bed hungry at night something’s gotta give – and I like to eat.
So, this song comes on as I’m resting my head on the steering wheel in Kmart parking lot on the south side of Nashville.

She want that lovey-dovey (lovey-dovey)
That Kiss-kiss (kiss-kiss)
In her mind she fantasize,
Bout Getting wit’ me.

They hatin’ on me
They wanna diss this (kiss kiss)
Cause she mine and so fine
And thick as can be…

I wasn’t a big Chris Brown or T-Pain fan by any stretch of the imagination, but for some reason the song made me feel better and I began bobbing my head. By the time the second chorus had rolled around I had the volume high and the top down. I was beginning to draw harsh looks from the passersby on the road who could easily hear my stereo blasting.
I suppose something snapped in me, perhaps from all the stress of the job search, homelessness and lack of basic essentials. The only thing that felt good was to dance.
I jumped out of the car and started doing exactly that.
I had never been one for exhibitionist behavior. Quite the contrary in fact. I was a shy guy for the most part, and very self-conscious about my appearance. So for me to be in the middle of a parking lot grooving to “Kiss-Kiss” for an audience of hundreds passing by was very out of character. I guess I had finally lost my mind.
But it is in the strangest ways that survival works out. If I hadn’t danced that day, I may not be sitting here in the drive-thru about to eat a chicken sandwich.

(TO BE CONTINUED?)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Goombay Smashed!

What I want to share with you today is a new original short story that you might say has been in the works for about 16 years. Those of you who know me well may have heard me tell the actual version of the story that this is based upon. This is a tale that certainly has factual roots. Like many of my more colorful stories, "Goombay Smashed!" was born from an experience I had while living in Orlando, Florida. A large part of the story is much like what really happened. Parts of it, thank goodness, are not.
It's been a long time since I've written anything new that involved gambling. It used to be a recurring theme for me in the 1990s, but not so much anymore. Still, I wanted to get this story on paper while my memory of the actual events it is based upon were still there and available for my retrieval.
This is the story of a guy who makes a new friend -- a friend with a serious problem. Although enabling his compulsive gambler friend provides him with an adventure better than he imagined, there are still consequences linked to his actions.

Ladies and Gentlemen... Goombay Smashed!

Thank you for reading.

*******************

Goombay Smashed

By Lee Morgan


If you’ve never been shot, and I’m praying you have not, it is not what you would expect at all.
The shock of it is more than you could ever imagine, but the physical pain may not be. Or maybe I’m just lucky. I suppose it depends on where you are hit that determines the level of pain. For me, it is a flesh wound mainly, I think. I hope. If the bullet had pierced bone then maybe I’d have a different perspective – I just can’t say for sure. Anyway, the point is, I don’t think it hurts as much as I always imagined. Not that it matters at the moment.
As I lie here listening to the sirens wail and watching the street lamps above Interstate 4 flash by, while the ambulance carts me off to the hospital in downtown Orlando, paramedics working feverishly on the bloody spot in my abdomen – I keep thinking back to the moment that started the entire chain of events. One thought, one phrase and here I am. Am I dying? Maybe not, I really don’t know for certain. But I know I’d rather not be here wondering.
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
I had no idea that my agreeing with this spontaneity would land me on a gurney less than a week later, wondering if my next breath might be my last.
The bar was mostly empty, save for a few other drunks who got off early and decided to skip 
supper and replace their meal with Budweiser and pretzels. Lots of people got cut loose on Tuesday night in the hospitality business. If the crowds didn’t show, the managers started cutting to boost productivity and cut labor percentages. So here we were, the victims of the 6pm cut when we had been scheduled until eleven. What little money we were able to scrape together in tips working at the Kissimmee tourist trap golf course restaurant would undoubtedly end up in the pocket of the bartender working here tonight.
But that was okay. I wanted the conversation and Mickey wanted someone to celebrate with when his Chicago Bulls beat the Vancouver Grizzlies. And they did, right there on the big screen on the back wall of the bar. 96-73.
“Man,” Mickey uttered. “I knew this was a good pick. Paper said the spread was only six points. I knew it!”
I hadn’t known Mickey all that long. We started working together a few weeks prior. It was May when I moved from a rural hole in the wall town in Middle Tennessee to Orlando in search of the sunshiny life Jimmy Buffet always sings about. Now it was November. Mickey had joined the staff at the country club just a few weeks ago and we hit it off quickly. I didn’t typically make friends all that easily, but for some reason this guy was fun to be around and had a story about everything. Despite his age, around 26, he had seemingly done it all. And he wasn’t the type that brags about everything and wants to be known as the one who has done more than everyone else. Details just slipped out and it seemed authentic. So, either he was the most adventurous 26-year-old I’d ever met or he was a master bullshitter.
Mickey was from Las Vegas. His parents had split when he was a teen and he had been given the choice to live with his mother, by all accounts a sweet and caring lady, or his father – a blackjack dealer at the Mirage who drank too much, smoked too much and had slapped his mother into the floor for “talking back” one too many times. She never filed assault charges on him, but she finally mustered the courage to file for divorce.
Apparently it had come as a shock to the entire family when Mickey chose to live with his dad. His mother had been crushed, but he explained to me – trying not to sound like a complete ass – that the only reason he went that route was because his dad was staying in Vegas and his mother was moving back where her parents lived in Bend, Oregon.
He had no desire to live in Oregon. All his friends were here, and his school was here. And at the time he had the desire to attend UNLV and play hoops. He hoped for a scholarship. He had met Jerry Tarkanian outside of Caesar’s one night while he was out walking with his friends. No more than a handshake and a quick chat ensued about how he was leading the Wildcats of the old Las Vegas High’s basketball team that season. He was a sophomore.
The “Shark” had apparently told him to, “keep it up and maybe you’ll play for me one day.” It was probably something he told every young hotshot player he came across. But Mickey had taken it to heart and worked hard to get the offer, but it never came. Although he was a 6-4, lean, speedy machine who could shoot the lights out from downtown, he still wasn’t Runnin’ Rebel caliber.
He turned against his hometown Rebels after that, and claims that his favorite basketball moment was when Christian Laettner "sank the buzzer beater" that ruined the Rebels’ season in the NCAA semi-final game during his last year at the culinary school at the Art Institute – a program he never completed.
After spilling this entire story, he doubled back to the subject of his mother.
“If she’d stayed,” he’d said. “I would have moved back in with her. But she didn’t want to stay there for me.”
But I had learned quickly in the last few weeks that Mickey wasn’t in love with Vegas. He was in love with the lifestyle available in Vegas. The boy liked to gamble. And his dad had a total disregard for the rules. He let him stay out late, allowed him to get fake identification so he could get into the sports books and lay bets and would even take his winning tickets into the casinos to cash them in just in case anyone bothered to card the kid. He let him drink, smoke and do pretty much whatever he wanted as long as he stayed out of his way. For a teenage boy, who could ask for more?
I had also learned that the tale of Christian Laettner and the Duke Blue Devils wasn’t necessarily true. It was just something he said when he got fired up thinking about Tarkanian’s apparent disregard for his better-than-average talents in high school. I never questioned the rehashing of Laettner's shot, but I knew at the time his memory was fuzzy because that 1991 semi was decided by two free throws with 12 seconds left. No butter beater at all. But that is neither here nor there.
In truth, his favorite basketball moment was when the Bulls had rallied from behind and beat the Cavs and the spread at the Stardust by a half-point. The win completed his parlay ticket that turned a modest bet into nine thousand dollars and change. It was the game that made him into a Bulls fan. It was on his 21st birthday, February 18, the day after Michael Jordan’s birthday. He saw that as some kind of sign. He’d always liked the Clippers before that.  Now he lived and breathed Bulls hoops.
Managing to hang on to that money in savings for a few years and drawing some interest, he used some of it to relocate to Orlando because it was where his new wife Melissa had been born and raised prior to moving with her divorcing mother to Las Vegas where she would be a lounge singer while Melissa was in high school. She had missed Central Florida ever since and had married Mickey on the condition that they would eventually make their home in the Orlando area, buying a house and raising children where she had grown up. He had just enough of the money still in savings that he knew he could squeeze out a down payment on a place sometime the next summer.
And that brings us back to this fateful conversation that took place less than a week ago, on November 5, 1996.
“You like to bet don’t you?” he asked me. “On ball?”
I paused, thinking about it.
“Sure,” I answered. “I like to, but I haven’t done a lot of it. You know? Bets with friends and shit.”
“Yeah,” Mickey paused, staring up at the highlights from the other games around the league. Then leaning toward me, “You don’t know any bookies around here?”
I chuckled and leaned back in my chair, feeling Mickey invade my personal space. Then, realizing he was serious, I answered.
“No,” I said. “Why would I?”
“Well, if you like to bet…”
“No,” I said. “I don’t know any. Besides, can’t you do it legally at one of those Seminole casinos down south?”
“Hell no,” Mickey said. “The only place in America where you can legally bet on sports is in Las Vegas.”
“Not even Atlantic City?” I asked, puzzled.
“Not even there,” he said. “Vegas only.”
I studied the highlights on the screen from the game we’d just watched and tipped back my fifth Budweiser and chased the gulp with a handful of pretzel crumbs from the bottom of the bowl.
“Jordan and Kukoc been hot so far,” I said, impressed. “Kukoc had 20 off the bench in the season opener last week I think.”
Mickey smiled.
“Hell yeah, man. These guys are gonna do it again this year.”
“I hope so,” I said. “I always liked this team, too.”
The sudden detour from the gambling conversation was only a bump in the road. Mickey had betting on the brain and he meant to remedy this situation.
“You should ask around at the club and see who takes bets,” he said, leaning toward me again.
“You ask around,” I said. “Jesus. Why would I?”
“Well, if you like to bet.”
“Shit, Mickey,” I said, leaning back into him. “I think you are the one who is itching to find a bookie, not me.”
Mickey paused.
“I need to tell you something,” he said, his face stone serious. “You can’t say anything about me even discussing gambling… to anyone!”
“Okay,” I said. “Fine.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “My wife said if she ever even heard I was thinking about gambling again she’d divorce me. That isn’t happening. You understand what I mean?”
“Yes,” I said. “I understand. So, I think the smart move is not to do it if you want your marriage to work.”
Mickey sighed.
“Easier said than done, my friend,” he said, slouching back in his chair in disgust.
I couldn’t tell whether he was disgusted with himself or with his wife’s demands, or me. I was a bit under-informed, I felt.
“Is it a problem for you?” I asked, gently.
Mickey just cut his eyes toward me and raised his beer bottle to his lips without saying anything. I took it as a yes.
“Gambler’s Anonymous type shit?” I asked, making it clear that I expected some explanation.
“Yeah,” he said. “It got bad for awhile and I lost about two grand during my bachelor party trying to play poker with the bog dogs. And I took a hard beat on a goddamn hockey game. Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks. Stupid.”
“Expensive bachelor party,” I said.
“Yessss-it-waaaaaas,” he answered in a slow, drawn-out sentence, apparently lost in a thought for a moment.
After a brief pause and another drink of beer, Mickey explained the rest.
“It was the money I had set aside for the honeymoon,” he said, trying to sound entertaining, but obviously feeling embarrassed about it a little.
“Holy shit!” I said. “What happened?”
“After the ceremony I had to tell her,” he said. “We had planned a week in Hawaii and that was all the spending money we had. I was trying to roll it up into about five grand so we could really blow it out, you know? Thought I had it in the bag. But it didn’t work out.”
“What did you do?”
“Fucking canceled the trip. I got a partial refund credited to my card and we ended up staying at the goddamn Golden Nugget downtown. Used a partial airline credit to fly down here to visit her friends a while after that.”
“Holy crap, Mickey,” I said. “I’ll bet she was pissed.”
“Pissed?” he said, eyes wide and eyebrows arched with shoulders that had taken back all the tension he must have felt back then. “Pissed? No. Pissed is when you stay out late drinking with the boys without calling to let her know where you are and when you’ll be home. That’s pissed.”
“Bad, huh?”
“Yeah,” he said in a huff. “Yeah. Real bad.”
We sat and watched highlights and elected to call it a night instead of hanging around to watch a west coast game. The conversation had taken the fight out of Mickey, I think. But not entirely.
On the way out to the parking lot to get in our respective cars, Mickey spoke up again about placing bets.
“I have an idea,” he said. “A good one.”
“Oh?”  I looked at him and waited for a response, but none came.
“I’ll give you a call later,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, curious. “Be careful.”
I drove up the interstate and took the East-West Expressway exit to make my way home. I always thought it was funny that I had to pay 50 cents just to get home from work.
When I got to my loft apartment downtown I could hear the phone ringing from outside. Thinking it may be an emergency call from my parents in Tennessee, I quickly jammed the key in the door, twisted it and flung open the door and ran to the phone. Out of breath, I answered it only to find Mickey on the other end of the line.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I wanted to tell you about the idea,” he said. “Have you ever been to Vegas?”
“No.” I had been few places outside of Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and a tour of Europe in high school with my German club.
“Want to go?”
“Someday I’d love to,” I said. “But I can’t afford that—“
“My treat,” he said. He sounded serious. “I’ll pay for airfare, hotel.”
“Well, that’d be cool. Hell yes!” I said. “When can we go?”
“Not ‘we’,” he said. “Just you.”
“Just me?” I asked, puzzled. “Why?”
“I want you to see the place,” he said. “You’ll love it. And I want you to lay some bets for me.”
“What?” I realized I was almost shouting. “That’s crazy!”
“No it’s not,” he said, suddenly lowering his voice to a near whisper. “Listen, I was looking over the NBA schedule. Good games coming up the next few days. Aren’t you off Thursday and Friday?”
“Yeah,” I said, still waiting for the punch line.
“Well then I’ll book the ticket for you for Thursday morning and fly you back late Friday night,” he said, totally serious. “I’ll give you some cash and all you’ll have to pay for is your own food and whatever gambling you want to do.”
“Shit, Mickey,” I said. “I don’t know.”
“Come on, man,” he insisted. “It’ll be an adventure!”
“You’re right about that,” I said, starting to like the sound of it. “Yeah. Let’s do it. If you’re serious about the hotel and air I’ll do it. But I really can’t afford any of that,”
“It’s cool,” he said. “I’ve got some mad money stashed away.”
“And Melissa?” I asked.
“If you don’t say anything she’ll never know,” he said. “I’ll talk to you at work tomorrow.”
So that night I dreamed of rolling dice and pulling the handle on the slots, dressed in my best clothes, walking the floor and smoking a cigarette under the flashing lights at The Mirage. I dreamed of hitting it big. I dreamed of scantily clad cocktail waitresses and free booze and sitting among the degenerates in the sports book watching Mickey’s teams roll up his winnings. I was going to Vegas, and I was going to have a great time.
The next day the conversation shifted into high gear. Mickey had been dreaming all night too, but it was a different kind of dream. A dream about basketball scores and how to manage the trip secretly; and how to communicate with me.
After careful thought, he had booked me on a flight that left at 8:45am Thursday. He told me that I would check in at Treasure Island when I got there and everything will be taken care of. He said there was a huge bank of pay phones close to the lobby and main restrooms where I could call him. He gave me a $20 bill specifically to buy a phone card so I could use it to call him, but only between 8am and 4:30pm each day. Otherwise Melissa would be home. He had already switched his schedule around so he could be off the same days that I was gone. He had told Melissa that he was doing someone else a favor.
On Wednesday evening we all went out after work, most of us having been cut early again. Mickey called it a night early and said I should do the same.
“Big day tomorrow,” he whispered in my ear. “Get some sleep.”
I nodded and he motioned for me to walk him to his car. I followed and when we got outside he continued.
“Got the money for you,” he said. “For the trip.”
He pulled a mangle of keys out of his pocket and popped the trunk open. Inside an old shoebox there was a paper bag.
“Get in my car and count this,” he said. “I want there to be no confusion as to how much I’m giving you.”
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a $20 bill.
“This doesn’t count,” he said. “This is for the phone card that you’ll use to call me. That money in the bag – that’s mine. For placing bets only. You got it?”
I suddenly felt like an employee instead of a buddy. I didn’t like it.
“Yeah, Mickey,” I said. “I got it. Jesus. You think I’m going to steal from you?”
“I didn’t say that,” he said, handing me the paper bag. “Just count it.”
I handed the bag back to him.
“You need to change your tone,” I said, stepping toward him. “I don’t have to go at all. That’s cool with me if you don’t trust me.”
Suddenly Mickey’s facial expression changed and a smile broke across his lips.
“I’m just fuckin’ with you, man,” he said. “I trust you. But seriously, you should count it just to make sure I didn’t give you a different amount that what I think I did.”
I could tell the smile and change of attitude was only half real. He probably did trust me, but just barely. He seemed like someone with a history of shady dealings all in a sudden. Someone I’d never trust. Up until that moment I’d liked him quite a lot. Although I had been insulted, I wanted the trip. I longed to travel and have adventures so I’d have stories to tell my friends back home. But I couldn’t help feeling a bit like a drug mule transporting contraband, a means to an end and nothing more. Still, I counted the money quickly realizing the depth of Mickey’s gambling addiction. He had given me four thousand dollars for a 48-hour trip.
“Five grand?” I exclaimed. “You want me to carry five grand in cash and bet it on ballgames? Are you crazy?”
“Go big or go home, my friend,” he said, smiling. “Yes, that’s the number. And don’t look at me like I’m nuts. If the lines aren’t right I won’t even bet near all of it. I just want you to have the ammunition in case I spot a sure shot.”
“You see many sure things?” I asked.
Mickey laughed, “Well, you never know.”
He handed me my check-in information for the airline and the hotel and got behind the wheel of his car as I got out of the passenger’s side.
I nervously took the cash over to my car and put it in the trunk. As I walked back inside to join my other co-workers for another drink, Mickey pulled away and shouted out of his car window.
“Have a good flight, and I’ll talk to you in the morning… from Vaaay-Gaaaaaas!”
His voice trailed off in the night and I just raised my hand in a wave and shook my head back and forth a couple of times and walked inside.
I found my co-workers engaged in a drinking game and I quickly got involved. Playing and playing until I felt quite drunk. When I checked my watch I realized it was 2am. My flight was in a few hours and I needed to sleep.
Excusing myself, staggering to my feet, I told everyone goodbye and made my way home with the windows down and air conditioning on to try and wake myself up enough to avoid a DUI.

**

When the phone began ringing in my apartment the next day I didn’t want to hear it. I had gotten intoxicated to the point that I’d forgotten about the trip as I fell asleep with the room spinning around me. What was on my mind the most was my amazement at how well I was able to hold it together and make it downtown to my place in such piss poor condition.
But the incessant ringing eventually forced me to open my eyes. As soon as I saw the bedside clock through my blurry, bloodshot eyes and the fog of the hangover cleared enough to interpret numerals, I realized it was almost noon. I had missed my flight.
“Oh shit,” I said, attempting to spring from the bed to my feet and instead falling face first into the chest of drawers. “Oh shit.”
The voice on the other end of the phone was one of the most unpleasant things I’d ever heard. Mickey’s voice was hoarse from screaming at me.
“What the fuck are you still doing there?!” he yelled. “I knew it. I fucking knew it! I knew when you hadn’t called me from the hotel yet you must have fucking slept through it. Fuck!”
Disappointment hung in the air, fouler than the stench of Bacardi Limon and coke on my breath.
“Oh Jesus,” I said. “I’m sorry Mickey. I totally slept through my alarm I guess. Oh, shit.”
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” he continued ranting. “Fuck!”
“Yeah, man,” I said. “Fuck! I really wanted to go.”
Just then I looked out the window of my apartment and saw my car sitting on the curb. I hadn’t even remembered to bring the money inside last night. I prayed it was still there.
“You do still have my money, don’t you?” he asked, angrily.
“Well yeah,” I said. “Of course.”
I hoped I was telling the truth.
“I’ll call you back in a few minutes,” he said, and hung up with a loud pop as if he’d slammed the phone on the hook.
I poured myself a Jack Daniel’s neat and chased it with an icy cold Surge citrus soda to bring me back to life. I lit a cigarette and sat on the edge of the couch thinking about how dumb it had been to stay out and how disappointed I was that I wasn’t strolling Las Vegas Boulevard right now.  And the most prominent thing in my mind was how I felt like I couldn’t live another hour without a smoked turkey deluxe from Beefy King.
I downed the drinks quickly and walked to the bathroom where I turned on the shower nice and hot to wash away the sleep and ease the hangover. I kept my smoke lit as a stood in the stream of water. Until it was down to the butt and I flicked it into the toilet across the room.
Mid-shampoo lather the phone started ringing again. Normally I wouldn’t have cared, but I knew Mickey might have a heart attack if he couldn’t reach me. I had hoped that he had taken a few breaths and calmed down.
I hopped out of the shower, just now realizing the sore spot on my head from the fall out of bed. I grabbed the towel and gave my face the once over to clear away any soapsuds. I answered the phone and found a much more pleasant Mickey on the other end of the conversation.
“Hello?” I said.
“Okay man,” he said. “I apologize for yelling. It was a fuck up, and it’s over. It’s cool.”
“Oh thanks,” I said, realizing I was standing naked in front of the picture window overlooking my neighbor’s pool where the pool cleaning guy was staring at me with a puzzled look. “I am very sorry I did that though. I really appreciate the opportunity to go and everything, I just got too fucked up. Should have listened to you last night and went home.”
“Well whatever,” he said. “I got it taken care of. Get your shit together and get ready to go. Got it all fixed up.”
“What do you mean? Later flight?”
I was excited.
“Yes, but not to Vegas,” he paused. “You got a passport?”
“No,” I answered, confused.
“Shit,” he said. “Alright then, what about a birth certificate. Like an original copy or whatever.”
“Yeah, I got one of those,” I said. “What’s up?”
“You are on the ATA flight out of MCO at 2:15 to Nassau,” he said, chuckling.
“What?” I said. “Nassau? The Bahamas?”
I heard Mickey on the other end of the line chuckling.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m serious. As long as you have that birth certificate, you are set to go. The downside is no hotel this time. Couldn’t get anything. But you can stay up all night in the casino or try to find a cheap place once you’re there if you want. I’ll pay for half if you do that. Reimburse you if you want.”
“I’m confused,” I said.
“I saw a casino ad in some cruise magazine last night. Something Melissa had,” he said. “They have sports books in Nassau. You can fly there in less than an hour, dude!”
“No shit?”
“No shit!”
I laughed a bit myself.
“What about the Vegas tickets and reservations, all that shit?” I asked.
“I got it taken care of,” he said. “Now go wake your ass up and get a backpack ready for island, hoppin’ Mon!”
“Mon?” I asked. “Isn’t that Jamaican?”
“Whatever,” he said, laughing.
“Oh this is awesome, Mickey,” I said.
“You just make sure you call me as soon as you get to the book,” he said. “We won’t have but a couple of hours before night games start and I want to get some money down for tonight if the lines are good.”
“You got it,” I said. “Count on it.”
“I am,”
And Mickey hung up.
I jumped back into the shower and rinsed my hair then got out and dried off and quickly got dressed, dug through my file cabinet until I found my birth certificate and packed a change of clothes and a bathing suit. I ran down to the car and popped the trunk, breathing a sigh of relief that the bag of cash was still in its place. I put it in my backpack, got in the car and realized I still had about an hour to spare – just enough time to make a stop at Beefy King along the way.

**

As the 747 lifted off the runway I was still in a bit of shock that I was making this trip. It was hard enough to believe that I was going to Las Vegas, and then it was impossible to believe I’d slept through it, and now I was watching Central Florida drop from beneath me as I headed out over the ocean to another country on a 36-hour gambling trip. Quite bizarre was this turn of events, but I was trying to wrap my brain around it and enjoy every second.
As the light brown, sandy color of Florida disappeared out my window and was replaced by the deep blue of the ocean that appeared between the white puffy clouds, I saw the flight attendant preparing something interesting at the front of the plane.
Another flight attendant came by my row and asked me and the man sitting to my right if we’d like a soda, beer, coffee or a Goombay Smash. They were complimentary.  I quickly opted for a Goombay Smash. I’d had them a few times in cheesy island-flavor theme bars around Orlando, but now I was headed to a place where the drink originated. Coconut rum, apricot brandy, pineapple and a few other ingredients make up the tasty drink that embodies the Bahamas. Bahama Mama be damned, this is the real deal.
Despite the fact it was served in a corny plastic coconut with a green straw, I took my Goombay smash and enjoyed it immensely. Soon I saw the waters out the window begin to turn turquoise and bright. The waters were getting shallow and soon the tiny islands began popping into view in all directions. I felt my heart race, thinking that this is the kind of place I should have moved to if I wanted to find that lifestyle Jimmy Buffet always sings about – not Orlando.
Within moments we were on the final approach. I had just enough time to wrangle a second Goombay Smash, which finally erased the last remnant of the hangover.  I felt great.
Stepping off the plane I felt the warm, moist Bahamian air through the jet way and I realized I was finally on an adventure.
I made my way through the airport and walked out to a curb where lines of tourists were waiting for taxis.
“Keep back off da street, ” I heard a loud voice say. “You are not in America anymore. You won’t get to file any lawsuits today if you get runned ovah.”
I smiled and appreciated the comment although some of my fellow American tourists could be heard grumbling, “asshole.”
I waited my turn patiently and then grabbed a cab. The driver asked me where I was going. I suddenly realized I had no idea.
“Ummm,” I delayed as he stared impatiently. “Ummm. Just take me to a casino where there is a sports book.”
“You like to bet on games?” he asked, shifting the small car into gear.
“Yes,” I said. “A nice one, by the beach.”
“Dey all by da beach, Mon,” he said, smiling. “Hang on, brotha.”
I smiled at his use of “Mon.”
The car rocketed through a crowd of other vehicles, zigzagging from lane to lane. It was my first experience since being in London during my high school trip that I had ridden on the left side of the road. The sharp turns, erratic driving and near misses were almost enough to bring the Goombay Smashes back up and into the floorboards, but I held it together and we eventually screeched to a halt in front of a place called The Crystal Palace Casino.
I paid the man his fare, thanked him and gave him a couple of bucks for a tip. I turned to look at the front entrance to the casino and thought to myself, ‘I hope no games start for a couple of hours because I want to check this place out.’
But I knew I needed to call Mickey immediately. I needed to locate the sports book and write down all the NBA game point spreads and find a way to call him before 4:30 when Melissa would get home from work. I had about 35 minutes left.
I walked inside and onto the main casino floor and I could see giant screen television and big boards on the wall with all types of numbers written across them. The televisions were broadcasting horse races, and I knew that had to be the spot. As I approached I noticed that there were several games listed under basketball and I quickly grabbed a scrap piece of paper from one of the desks in the sports book and a small pencil and jotted all the information down.
I found a gift shop and asked if they sold phone cards and they did. There was one for $25, so I had to kick in the extra $5, but that was perfectly okay. I dialed Mickey and let him know that I was there and had numbers.
He seemed worried and preoccupied. He didn’t ask what it was like there, how my flight was or anything.
“Just give the numbers quick,” he said. “Quickly!”
I did, and he told me to hang up and call him back in 10 minutes. I walked over to a bar on the casino floor, ordered a Goombay Smash and walked back to the phones. I dialed Mickey and he sounded much happier.
“Aw man,” he said. “I got some locks tonight, baby. Some locks!”
“Locks are good,” I said. “Lay it on me.”
“Okay, write all this down,” he said, frantically. “I have four different ones.”
I waited on the other end as I heard him mumbling something to himself about the start times and so forth.
“You ready?” he said. “No spreads tonight. I like all my picks straight up on the money line.”
“Sure,” I answered. “Give them to me.”
Mickey told me he wanted $500 on Golden State over the Knicks. He wanted The Nets over out hometown Magic for $500 more, a thousand bucks on the Suns over the Seattle and two grand on his super lock of the day – Timberwolves over Trail Blazers.
I struck me suddenly that the amounts he had asked me to bet used up every penny of his four thousand.
“You want me to bet it all today,” I asked. “You sure?”
“That’s what I said,” Mickey retorted. “Just do it. Are you going to do it?”
“Well yeah,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
“You just remember that those bets are on you now,” he said. “The winnings are mine regardless from this point on. You lose the tickets, or you don’t get the bets down in time. That’s on you. You’ll have to come up with the money,”
I got that insulted feeling again and instantly knew I’d never do this for him again. It was like he took on a whole new personality when the game was afoot.
“Listen Mickey,” I said. “You have no reason to distrust me. And that’s the second time you’ve taken that tone with me.”
“Well,” he said. “It’s just a lot of money, man.”
“I realize that,” I said. “But you don’t need to talk to me that way. I’ll get your damn bets down. Don’t worry. And I won’t lose the tickets. Chill the fuck out.”
“Sorry, man,” he said. “I’m just all amped up.”
“Yeah, well…”
I continued, “Anyway. When do I leave tomorrow? Late?”
“Oh no,” he said. “Did they not give you the return ticket with the first one?”
I looked through my backpack and realized that they did. The flight was scheduled to leave just after 2pm the next day.
“I see it now,” I said. “Why so early? Thought you’d want me to bet games tomorrow too.”
“Oh I do,” he said. “If it all goes well tonight then I’ll give you another big one to bet tomorrow. Whichever one is best. You can just come back with the ticket. If it’s a winner, I’ll send you back to pick up my winnings and get you a hotel next time.”
“Oh wow,” I said, suddenly wondering if I’d stick to my guns on my decision not to do this again.
“So you got em written down?” he asked.
I said I did and read his picks back to him. I got off the phone and immediately went to the sports book to place the wagers. I got the tickets for the games and put them in a pouch inside my backpack. I was very happy to be rid of the four thousand dollars in cash I’d been carrying around.
I took my drink to a nearby table and watched a couple of horse races. I’d never bet on horses before and thought it looked like fun. The next race, the screen said, started in six minutes. I walked to the window and asked how to bet on them. They were not busy at all at this time of day and the lady at the counter was happy to give me a quick lesson.
With only one minute to go before the next race I decided to take a stab at it.
“Give me a two dollar exacta on horse 4 and 6,” I said, smiling.
“You want it boxed?” she asked, and I just stared blankly.
“What does that mean again?” I asked.
“It mean horses 4 and 6 must finish first and second place in either order,” she said. “If you don’t box and numbah 6 come in first and 4 come in second you will lose.”
“Oh!” I understood now. “Yes, box it.”
“Four dollah, sir,” she said.
I handed her the money and grabbed my ticket just moments before the gates flew open on the screen. The four-horse pulled away from the field immediately and I let out a small yell. The horse was extending the lead all the way around the track, making it obvious that he would win the race by the halfway mark. My other horse, the six-horse, was back in fourth place though. But on the home stretch the horse maneuvered to the outside and turned on the steam, edging out the horse on the rail by a nose. My ticket was a winner.
“Woo!” I said aloud. “I won!”
I realized I had never even gone and sat down to watch. I was still standing by the counter at the lady’s window.
“You beginnah luck,” she said. “Very good. Numbah 6 was a long shot.”
“So how much do I win?” I was excited.
“Have to wait for it to be official,” she said.
Moments later the word “official” flashed on the screen and I handed her my ticket.
“You get $95,” she said.
“Really?” I was ecstatic. “Wow! On a Four dollar bet?”
“Beginnah luck,” she repeated.
I gathered my cash and went and sat down. I couldn’t believe my luck. A few minutes later I saw the point spreads update in the NBA and I decided to go ahead and lay my bets for the night. I had brought along a couple of hundred to blow just on basketball, and now I had an extra hundred. So I laid $200 on the Orlando Magic against the New Jersey Nets. It was the biggest bet I’d ever made and they were my team. I’d just been to see them play the Bullets on opening night a little over a week ago. They had lost, but that was okay… this game was in Japan for some reason and it was calling out to me. Also, it would be on very late because Tokyo was 13 hours ahead. Midnight. A sign, as Mickey might have said. Mickey had gone the other way on the game, but I figured at least this way one of us would win.
After placing the bet I went and got some early dinner. I had some jerk chicken and drank a couple more Goombay Smashes. With a full belly and a slight buzz I decided to walk the casino and play some cheap games while I waited to go back to the sports book to watch the basketball games. I chain smoked and watched several of the table games trying to figure out how they worked and what I might actually be able to win at. I settled on a game called Sigma Derby, a mechanical horse racing game that you could bet as little as a quarter per race. It was perfect and looked fun. The game required you to pick exactas like I’d won on in the sports book. I sat down on a stool with a fresh cigarette and my half-full drink and dropped in a quarter. I pushed the button signifying that I wanted to bet horses 1-2. The bell sounded and the little mechanical horses trotted around the oval track and the number one and two horses darted to the lead in the final seconds to win. My bet was a 20-to-1 shot and I won 20 quarters. It was only five bucks, but it was exciting to hear them clink into the catch tray. I stayed at the Sigma Derby machine for 90 minutes and turned my five dollars into just over two hundred. I must have won three races to ever one I lost. I was truly on a roll. When I gathered my money in a cup to cash it in and dropped a quarter in the Double-Cherry slot machine on the way by, not even planning to stop and play it, I heard dinging bells and money beginning to fall into the tray at the bottom. I looked back and saw that the reels had come up cherry-cherry-cherry… it was good for five hundred dollars. My mouth dropped open and I was almost in tears I was so excited. I got my winnings and got help carrying them to the cage to cash them in. I realized I had more than $700 in winnings already and a $200 pending bet and it wasn’t even 7pm yet. What a day!
I was afraid I would end up dumping the money back to the casino throughout the night, so I made a decision to ask about a room and get something out of my good fortune.
At the desk I asked if there was any available. I was told there was only a suite on the top floor that went for a whopping $500 per night.
Without hesitating I told them I’d take it. I plopped down my cash and got a key to what was the most incredible hotel room I’d ever stayed in. Even if I blew every cent I had, I now had my own little hideaway for the night and access to an incredible pool below.
The room was decorated in pastels and white. There were two beds in two separate rooms and a living room area large enough to host a small cocktail party. A big screen television adorned the wall and a balcony located just feet from the roof of the tall building towered over the bay to the north of the property. The pool below was surrounded by palm trees and a sandy beach was just steps away from it. A large rock formation hugged one side of the pool, complete with a climbing wall and waterslide that looped around and around, dropping visitors into the clear, blue water below. And on the opposite side of the pool, a swim up bar where the stools were actually about a foot underwater so you could soak and drink all at the same time under a thatch canopy that kept the harsh sun off your head. It was beautiful, and I was going to take advantage of it later on if I could. But I wanted to see my game in the sports book then come back to the room for some room service if things went well.
My luck showed no indication of changing. After splashing some water on my face in the room and heading back down the elevator, I stepped back onto the casino floor and dropped two twenties on the nearest roulette table. They gave me white dollar chips and I placed them in a pattern all around the felt playing surface. The first spin was black-13. Not such a lucky number to most, but I had always been fond of 13 and had placed it first, having doubled up on that space alone. Although I had put eight dollars in play and lost six of them, the two-dollar bet on black-13 was a $70 winner. I placed the same bets again and the next number was black-11. Another number I had played. It was unreal, as if I was unable to lose. Another $70 got stacked in front of me and I slid the entire $140 stack of easy money into the space marked “Odd.” The little ball kicked around the wheel and almost settled into the green double-zero slot, but took one final bounce and landed comfortably in the 17 slot. Odd was a winner. $280 in three spins. I picked up my chips and walked away – the early NBA games were all underway now. I needed a Maker’s Mark and a beer and some space to relax and watch the games.
This was a most unusual adventure. All by myself in another country and no one to speak to outside of a brief hello or small talk around a table game. And yet I didn’t feel lonely at all. I was extremely happy to be having this excitement all to myself. Having been single and without a date for quite sometime, it wasn’t unusual for me to entertain myself – I usually just didn’t have this much success at it.
I finished my drinks and saw the last of the sunlight fade from the sky as night fell. The first round of games was underway, and at the moment Mickey looked to be in good shape. My game wasn’t until much later, so I decided to go back up to the room, get my bathing suit on and go out to the pool and swim a bit. Maybe have more drinks.
As I walked out to the swimming area, the size of the pool really struck me. It looked much larger from down here than it had from my spacious balcony far above. The water slide was massive and the volume of water pouring out of it was giving off the roar of a large waterfall. 
The pool bar looked very attractive to me, as did some of the tourist ladies that were sitting there sipping on various colorful cocktails. I jumped in and took a few laps, went down the slide once and eased over to the stool and sat, half submerged, beside a tanned blonde sipping on what looked like a strawberry daiquiri. The bartender came by and asked what he could do for me, and I asked him to run a tab on my room number and to keep the Goombay Smashes coming.
“Yessir,” he said, and served up round one.
I hadn’t thought about it before, but I noticed and thought it interesting how they designed the bar so the bartender got to stay dry.
Before my liquid courage gave me enough balls to talk to the pretty blonde next to me, she swam away and headed to the hotel lobby. But I didn’t care. I was feeling important and successful – not something I was accustomed to. I sat and I drank and drank and drank. I ran up a tab of just over $130 with tips and even bought a round for a couple of guys who were visiting from my home state of Tennessee. Seemed like the right thing to do considering the good fortune I was having on this trip.
The television behind the bar was locked on some island version of MTV with calypso bands playing incredible music in horrible videos. I asked the bartender if he could switch it to ESPN so I could see some quick scores. I was hammered, but I could still read numbers.
“No problem at all,” he said, smiling.
Unfortunately for Mickey, his first bet was down the tubes. He still had the late Orlando game and the Golden State and Phoenix games were about to start. That lock of the day was a two thousand dollar flush down the toilet. His Timberwolves had hung tough, but lost by a single point in overtime to the Blazers. The best he could do now is break even on the first day, and he’d have to go 3-0 the rest of the night.
 Personally, I hated that he lost his game but I also thought it was foolish to bet so much on one game. So I didn’t feel bad, and he was a veteran of the sports book in Vegas. Surely he’d come out okay.
I signed for my tab and made my way out of the pool. I dried off with a towel given to me by one of the attendants and I slid on my flip-flops and headed inside with my tee shirt sticking to my wet skin. I walked straight into the sports book and decided for some reason to bet against Golden State. Not for any particular reason except that Mickey had screwed the pooch on the first bet and I figured I’d go opposite him on that game too. Besides, I kind of liked the Knicks a little.
I laid a hundred on the Knicks and went to put on dry clothes.
I gave the room service menu a look and decided on a late snack of crab legs with butter sauce, an order of hot wings and a pizza. It was a completely ridiculous order, but it was the best sounding thing in the world to someone smashed on rum. I also had them bring up a six-pack of Red Stripe and two cold Cokes.
It was more food than I could possibly eat and not get sick, so I made the decision to stop eating about two-thirds of the way through it when I felt like another bite would send me hurling over the top floor balcony. That, I thought, could lead to trouble.
By midnight I could have crashed and slept for 12 hours and been a happy camper. But I wanted to see the Magic game. When I turned on the big screen TV in my room I realized the game wasn’t on in the room. It was only on in the sports book, which was closed now, but the televisions were still on all night for gamblers to watch action.
So I slid my shoes back on and went to the elevator packed full of shellfish, Jamaican beer, hot sauce and mozzarella. It was a reluctant trip downstairs, but one I had to make.
The scores indicated that Mickey was down to his last out. He had gone 0-for-3 on the night and only had the chance to have $1000 at the end of the day if Orlando lost in Japan.
Meanwhile, my bet paid off and I was up – way up for the trip. I could imagine how Mickey must have felt. At least I thought I knew.
Over the next two hours I watched as the Magic defeated the Nets 108-95. I was happy, but at the same time realized that there would be no more bets for Mickey tomorrow. The trip had been a complete bust. I dreaded having to call him and hear his venting.
To add a cherry to the top of my ice cream sundae evening, I fed a $10 bill into another slot machine and pulled the arm only to see three sevens line up in a row. A cool thousand bucks was mine and I had now profited more than two grand in a day. I went to bed and slept like the dead at 3am.
The next morning I had a killer hangover for the second day in a row, but I remedied it with an early morning swim and some Bloody Mary doubles. After a breakfast buffet with chocolate chip pancakes and made-to-order omelets, I made my way over to the sports book to cash in my Golden State and Orlando tickets from the night before. As they counted my money out to me I thought about giving half of it to Mickey because he’d had such horrible luck. But then I remembered how shitty he’d been to me about the betting and decided it was best to just thank him for the plane ride, tell him I was sorry for his bad luck and buy him a beer that night if we saw one another. He didn’t need to know that I’d won everything I’d touched while he dumped his money down a bottomless pit.
That thought was confirmed after making the call to Mickey to talk to him.
“By any chance did you forget to place any of those bets?” he asked, desperately.
“Well no,” I said. “I told you I’d get them down for you,”
“Fuck!” he said. “I lost them all!”
“I know,” I answered solemnly.
“Well,” he paused, wondering if he should say it. “Well, I want to see the tickets.”
“Excuse me?” I questioned firmly.
“I want to see the losing tickets from the sports book for those amounts I told you. Make sure you really lost all that money.”
“Hey,” I said. “I didn’t lose anything, asshole. I did what you said and YOU lost the bets. But I’ll bring you your fucking tickets.”
He sat in silence for a moment.
“Sorry,” he said. “I just can’t believe I did this.”
“Well, you did!”
I hung up the phone and refused to let him ruin the rest of my trip. I walked back into the casino and laid twenty dollars on the roulette table and placed my lucky bets from the night before. Double-zero came up twice within four spins and all my money was gone. The magic had left me, I was afraid. So I didn’t place any more bets.
I walked the local outdoor market and picked up a couple of souvenirs for a Moroccan girl I had my eye on at work. One was a bracelet and the other some kind of corkscrew with a wooden carving on it that looked like a palm tree. Probably the same kind of shit I could have found in Kissimmee, but I wanted to be able to tell her I got her something. I got a tee shirt that had a passed out stick figure holding a coconut umbrella drink on it that read “Goombay Smashed.” It seemed appropriate.
I hailed a cab and went back to the airport on a slightly less scary ride. I barely made my flight because of a car crash on the main road, but I got on board just before they closed the doors on the jet way.
I arrived back in Orlando and was back home relaxing on my couch watching “Red River” with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift by 5pm.
“I’ll buy the drinks when it’s over,” Mr. Melville said in the film.
It gave me an idea.
I picked up the phone and called Mickey. I knew Melissa would be home, but I just wanted to invite him for drinks the next night after work. Mickey agreed to meet for drinks and mentioned something that made me realize why he was taking the beats extremely hard.
“She’s going to find out,” he mumbled into the phone.
“What? Why?” I asked.
“That money was for the down payment on a house next summer. I’ll have to tell her.”
I didn’t know what to say about that. I wanted to tell him how foolish he had been. I wanted to ask him why he would do something so stupid and selfish. But I knew why. He was an addict and he felt like he couldn’t help it.
After I hung up with him I sat and thought about his plight. It couldn’t be helped and it was not my responsibility that it had happened. I felt some guilt for enabling him, but I also had no idea he had gotten the money from his nest egg.
The next night I went to Pete’s, the same bar where he and I often met after work. I arrived there a few minutes late and he wasn’t there. I wondered for a moment if he’d been there and then left, but I decided to order a Red Stripe and wait it out. I had acquired quite a taste for the Jamaican brew on my trip. Halfway through the beer I spotted Mickey’s car in the parking lot. He walked in slowly, looking rough. I had just seen him a couple of days prior and he looked okay. Tonight he looked like he needed a shave, a bath and some therapy.
I was willing to foot the bar bill, obviously, but I wasn’t sure how much of his depression I could take. I was in a pleasant mood and I didn’t want to seem unsympathetic to his situation, but I wasn’t sure how much of his bellyaching I could tolerate.
As he entered through the front door I raised my hand and waved to him so he could see where I was seated. In the same motion I got Pete’s attention behind the bar and asked him to send over another Red Stripe.
As Pete nodded to me, acknowledging the order, I heard a loud pop and felt a hot, shooting sensation run all the way up my spine and a burning feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t terrible pain, but it was very unpleasant. When my head turned back toward Mickey I saw the barrel of his gun pointed at me, and smoke swirling in the air by the neon light from the signs that backlit him.
The shock was indescribable. My friend had shot me.
He yelled out something that I now realize was,  “She was going to leave me! She was leaving!”
He repeated it several times, loud enough to be heard over the screaming of the patrons and the sound of tables being turned over for cover. Then a second loud pop. Glancing up from my blood soaked shirt I saw a spray of blood and brains leave the side of Mickey’s head and saw his body go limp and fall to the floor in a heap.
 Now we are arriving at the hospital downtown.
This medic keeps assuring me that I will be okay if I will just stay with him. Stay with him.
I’m having trouble making sense of it. I think he means to stay conscious, not physically to stay with him.
It really doesn’t hurt that much. It’s just cold now. And I know it’s fall and everything, but it’s Florida for God’s sake. It’s not cold out here. Why is it so fucking cold?
What does me mean stay with me? Where would I go?
It’s just so cold, and now they are opening the doors of the car. It’s freezing out there. Please more blankets.
Where do they think I’m going? I’m right here. Why all this stay with me bullshit?
I just need to rest. I’ll be okay if I can just get a few minutes of sleep. I’ve been on the run a lot lately, and Steve kept me on till closing tonight. I’m just tired, man. I just want to close my eyes. Just for a second. It’s cold.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Whistling Patty

(from the unpublished book "The Hilltop Memoir and Tales From Dark Places")




WHISTLING PATTY



It was October of 1991 when we first discovered the house. Our senior year in high school had barely begun, and we were already coming up with any excuse we could to hang out together.
We knew our time was short. A select few of us would remain tight and stay connected throughout our entire lives, but far more common would be the story of great friends who lost touch after graduation. Your best friends on the last day of school may not see you again until the 10-year reunion. And in some cases, there would be friends you never saw again. Death at a young age, relocation. There were several ways it could, and inevitably would happen. 
One way we chose to spend time together was finding places where the adults would leave us alone, making a bonfire and just sitting around on the hoods of our cars drinking, smoking cigarettes and talking about the topics of the day. We really liked it when certain friends had parents who were out of town. It didn’t happen a lot, but occasionally my friend Jeremy would announce his parents were going on one of their annual cruises and not taking him along. He lived on a big farm, and without question the gathering would commence the moment they were off on the plane to their embarkation port.
Sometimes we had to get more creative. After all, there weren’t always weekends when someone’s farm-owning parents were going on vacation. So we’d hang out in K-Mart parking lot when we were in a pinch, or just drive out to the football practice fields behind the high school and use our car headlights to see while we socialized and tried to lure the girls into a ride-around. That is, until someone who worked for the school or decided to be a good Samaritan told the right person that “those damn kids” were on the grounds after hours. Then we’d get run off the property and back to K-Mart we’d go. No big deal.
When Jason first brought up Whistling Patty, no one knew what he was talking about or paid much attention at first. Jason was always saying random shit, and in the hustle and bustle of the high school cafeteria that Friday not many people even heard what he was talking about.
There were plenty of conversations going on simultaneously. Some talked about the Geometry teacher everyone hated. Some talked about girls, exaggerated weekend conquests, told stories about what they had done with so-and-so. And some just wanted to know the answer to the big question.
“What are we doing tonight?”
Jason was one of my good friends. I wouldn’t call him my best friend, but we were fairly close. He’d spent the night at my house many times, had been playing D&D with me for five years and had always been a bitter video game rival on the Nintendo, particularly playing Ten Yard Fight. He was a good guy.
When Jason spoke that day at the lunch table, I heard him and I thought it was pretty interesting.
Jason had an older brother who everyone around town knew. People just called him Perk. Seth Perkins was his name. He had been one of two football players from the class of 1989 to play college ball. He was an offensive lineman that weighed around 280 and made a 1,200-yard rushing season possible for DeSean Wilkerson – the other player who got to play some college ball, until his knee was shattered in the third game of his freshman season.
Anyway, Perk had told Jason about this place out on Weakley Creek Road not too far from school where an old abandoned house sat back in the woods. To get over to the house you had to walk across a drainage pipe that crossed a stream, but out in front of the house was a pasture with a rough dirt trail that led right off the road with no houses in sight. Perk had said it was a good place to gather where the cops and no one else would bother you.
At some point over the last few decades since the house had been abandoned, some teenagers had taken it upon themselves to start tearing the place apart piece by piece. One of the favorite activities had been to bring shotguns and rifles out to the place and shoot the windows out. Obviously the windows didn’t last too long and shooting the house in any old spot became a pastime.
He also said that there was a story about the house. It was supposed to be haunted. That always added some excitement. But I had never heard a story about it before.
Every small town has its ghost stories. Lawrence had two, apparently. The one I had heard many times involved a tombstone located way out on Granddaddy Road on the west side of town. If you go out to the cemetery on a clear night one of the tombstones glows bright green.
I had been there a coupe of times and I had seen it. Somehow it was barely creepy. It really did glow, but something about it just made it seem like a cheap illusion. It certainly was not scary.
Whistling Patty was the other story.
After lunch I cornered Jason by the lockers and asked him more about where this old house was and asked if he had meant for us to go there that night. He told me he wanted to, but that no one was paying attention. I agreed to spread the word to a few of our friends. We made plans to meet in the high school parking lot at 9pm and we’d all go out to the place and see what it was all about. If it was a cool place, we’d hang there late, drink some beers and shoot the bull. 
Five of us agreed to meet that night.
Jason and I had rounded up three more of our friends. It was a rather small gathering compared to our usual weekends, but we kind of wanted the close-knit group to “re-discover” this old place if it turned out to be as awesome as Perk had said.
But we wouldn’t discover it alone as it turned out. When Jason pulled up in the high school parking lot, Perk jumped out of the passenger’s side and greeted me with a loud, “What’s up, Jimmy?!”
All of my friends called me Jim, but Perk had always called me Jimmy for some reason. I didn’t mind, and he was so much bigger than me back then that it didn’t matter if I liked it or not. I wasn’t saying anything about it. He could be an intense guy, but he was okay for the most part.
Perk had this one weekend off during football season. His team had a bye week and they got to go home for the weekend. It would be the last time Jason would get to see his brother at home until Christmas break.
Still, I didn’t like seeing him that night. I wanted our crew to go out to the haunted house alone, without a tour guide who had done it before. But that didn’t appear to be the case. Besides, Jason seemed comforted by his brother’s presence. He had talked big about going out to this creepy joint, but when the time came to drive down that dark, country road to some old abandoned house said to be inhabited by spirits – Jason was a bit edgy.
The other guys arrived soon after. Robert, Dane and Joey were all long-time friends. We’d all gone to elementary school together, with the exception of Dane who had moved here in the seventh grade.
 Robert was my best friend and he was the first person I had mentioned the place to. He quickly said he’d tell Dane and Joey. The five of us were automatically included in all plans if any of us were. We were the De facto “in crowd” in our circle of friends. At least as far as we were concerned.  So here we all were, plus one.
Jason said he’d lead the way and we could all follow. Perk had loaded the bed of Jason’s Toyota truck with lots of kindling and some old dry logs to build an easy fire. It turned out Perk was indeed handy already.
I left my car in the lot and I got in with Robert and Dane. Joey jumped in the truck with Perk and Jason. We followed.
After we had traveled a couple of miles down Weakley Creek, the road got a little curvy and the houses got fewer and farther between. It was the kind of area, despite being relatively close to town, where a car coming down the road at night would bring residents out of their homes to watch you pass by out of curiosity from their porches. Since we had a two-car convoy, we must have seemed very interesting. Either every family on the road was out enjoying the fall weather, or everyone around there was just very easily spooked.
Whatever the reasons, all of these eyeballs on us as we drove by made the atmosphere creepier than it probably should have been. After a few more minutes we finally arrived at a spot where weeds had grown up all along the sides of the road, but Perk took a hard left across the road and into what seemed to be a ditch. But when our headlights hit the spot, we realized he had simply driven through the weeds and onto an old trail. We followed.
About 75 yards down the trail, Perk parked the truck and we pulled in behind him. He jumped out quickly and waved his hand at Robert.
“Leave your lights on,” he said. “Gonna get this wood out and make a bonfire!”
Robert acknowledged with a wave and shut off the engine, leaving the lights on. Dane and I jumped out and helped build the fire.
Soon we had a roaring fire that lit up the field. The field was closer to the road than I had imagined it would be. I had thought it would be way back in the forest and then there would be a clearing, but this was barely off the road.
“You sure nobody will care if we’re out here?” I asked Perk.
“Nah, man,” he replied, cracking open a Miller Light from the cooler in the back of the truck. “You want a beer?”
“Yeah,” I said, and he pitched me one.
The cold water from the cooler that was on the can splattered in my face and really gave me a jolt. The temperatures were decidedly autumn-like although the season was only two weeks old.
“Who else needs a brew?” Perk asked, handing one to his brother.
Dane abstained as he always did and Joey quickly raised a Budweiser of his own, signaling that he had his needs covered already.
“We gonna go up and see this house or what?” Dane asked. “Is it close by?”
“Is is close by?” Perk mocked, pointing a finger into the woods and upward toward the tops of the nearest trees.
“What?” Dane said. “I don’t see anything.”
“Right there numb nuts,” Perk said. “Up on the hill. It’s right…”
All five of us must have seen the same thing at the same time. At first glance we didn’t make out anything but the outline of tree tops against the moonlit sky, but then a piece of green kindling blazed up in the bonfire and shone just enough light at just the right angle to reflect off of what little glass remained in the top floor of the house.
“Jesus!” we all said simultaneously.
Perk looked at us like we were crazy.
“What in the hell is wrong with y’all?” he asked with a confused grin.
“Did you all see what I saw?” I said.
They were all nodding in unison. They had. And since Perk’s back had been to the house and he had pointed off behind him, he didn’t see anything.
But what we saw was frightening. Thinking back on it maybe it shouldn’t have been, but we were amped up a little for sure, expecting to see ghosts and shit. When that quick flash of light caught the glass in the house it was like seeing a demon awaken on the hill. The house was much closer than we had anticipated and the glare from the fire had appeared like big red eyes peering at us from the darkness. The railing on the porch, which had somehow remained white throughout the years caught just enough glow from the fire to look like a wide smile. We hadn’t even crossed the stream to go over to the house yet and it was already scary as hell.
“What did y’all see?” Perk asked. “Y’all sumbitches see a ghost? Did you? I been looking for a ghost out here for years and ain’t seen nothing.”
“No,” Jason said. “Wasn’t a ghost. But that house… it looked at us.”
In unison, four more voices, “Yeah!”
“What?” Perk said. “What do you mean it looked at you?”
“It fucking looked at us, man,” Joey said. “The fire lit up the eyes… or the windows or whatever.”
At the same time Robert and I followed his comment, “And it has porch teeth.”
“Are y’all fuckin’ with me?” Perk said. “Y’all planned to say that shit.”
“Not at all,” I said. “We just saw the same thing. Creepy stuff.”
“Let’s go,” Dane said.
“We ain’t leaving now. We just got here,” Perk said.
“No,” Dane said. “I meant let’s go to the house. I gotta see this place inside and out.”
The rest of us agreed, but remained silent. We knew we had to go up there, but weren’t necessarily ready without a few more beers.
“We’ll go,” Perk said. “It’s Urr-Laaaay. Let’s drink these beers.”
With the exception of Dane, who didn’t typically drink, we all felt a lot calmer hearing this suggestion.
After sitting in silence for a minute or so, Perk spoke up again.
“So, y’all know about Whistling Patty, right?” he said. “You know the whole story of what happened up there?”
“No,” I said. “None of us do.”
“Didn’t I tell you this shit, little brother?” Perk asked, looking over at Jason.
“Not really,” he answered. “I just caught the end of the story when you were telling that guy about it.”
“Aw shit,” Perk said. “I can’t believe that story has died out in just a couple of years. I thought everybody knew it.”
“Tell us,” Dane insisted. “We need to know the back story before we go up there to get the full effect.”
“It had something to do with a young girl, right?” Jason added.
“Yeah,” Perk said. “Patty. I want to say her name was Patty Montgomery.”
We all scooted a little closer to the fire to stay warm as Perk got up, went over to the truck and grabbed the cooler of beer and sat it close by so no one would have to get up for a drink. It was then that Perk told us Lawrence’s other ghost story. The tale of Patty Montgomery has remained with me for many years longer than my friendship with any of the boys sitting around the campfire that October evening.

***

Patty Montgomery wasn’t a pretty girl by usual standards. She was scrawny, her bones seemed a bit too visible at the knees and elbows, her feet were too long for her short rail of a body and her complexion was that of the undead. She had auburn hair and her white skin contrasted the dark clothes her parents always dressed her in. Her skin was such a blank canvas that each of her hundreds of freckles looked like they had been spattered on with a brush randomly at a distance -- As if the artist painting this young girl simply dipped in the red and slung the brush in her general direction.
Her parents were good people, well thought of in the community. Her father was the majority partner at a law firm in the next town over and her mother worked as an assistant to the funeral director at one of the small town’s two funeral homes. They were heavily involved in the church and often hosted gatherings at their home that served as major social events for the who’s-who around town. There would be live bluegrass music in the barn – Jake Montgomery, Patty’s father, played upright bass and sang back up at the parties. The food, catered by Mrs. Montgomery’s sister Sylvia, stretched out across a seemingly endless buffet to feed crowds that sometimes reached upwards of 100 people. They showed up to wander about the property a few nights each year.
Gus Roberts first saw Patty during a party the Montgomery family had on the Fourth of July in 1956. Gus wasn’t one of the invited guests and was certainly not a who’s-who in town. He kept to himself and no one knew much about him. But he had approached Sylvia at her bakery in the spring about work. She didn’t have anything to offer at the time, but said that she did catering jobs from time to time and would keep his name on file and contact him about helping out with those events if he was interested. He said he was, and the Fourth of July party at her sister’s house in July was his first gig.
The party wasn’t much different than others the Montgomery’s had thrown in the past. It was a success as usual. But there was a key difference. Gus.
Gus had spotted Patty as she was gathering petit fours on a plate to share with some of the other children at the party.
Gus approached her, wearing his waiter’s uniform. It was a white jacket with a black bow tie and white pants. He was a pale man with bad skin and a large head. His face was acne scarred and freckled and his thin hair was bright red – almost as red as the big round nose that stuck out like a sore thumb from the center of his face. Despite his unfortunate appearance, he had a friendly demeanor and a soothing voice that helped people get over his harsh aesthetics and talk to him comfortably. It was the voice and persuasiveness that made Sylvia remember to call him back about the job at all.
“Hey there,” he said happily as Patty gathered a variety of the small cakes on a plate. “Is this your house?”
“Yes,” Patty said proudly. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Gus said. “Beautiful place.”
After a pause, Patty selected the last of the petit fours she wanted. It was one covered in white chocolate with cherry sitting right in the center. She began to turn away and Gus spoke again.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She turned back, smiling.
“Patty Montgomery.”
“Oh,” he answered with a gentle smile and extended a hand. “Nice to meet you Patty Montgomery. I’m Gus.”
“Gus what?”
“Gus Roberts.”
“Do you work for my aunt Sylvia?” she asked, giving him a quick shake and returning both hands under the plate of cakes to support them.
“Yes,” he said. “Tonight I do. This is my first time working for her.”
“Oh,” she answered. “She makes the best petit fours ever. You should try one.”
Gus smiled and looked down at the mound of sweets spread across the table.
“Oh, I’m sure she does,” he said. “But I don’t think I’m supposed to eat them. They are for the guests. How old are you?”
“I’m eight years old,” she said, dismissively. “And you are here, so that makes you my guest. It’s my house. So you can have one if you want.”
Gus chuckled.
“That’s very nice of you, Patty.” He said, smiling. “I might do that in a bit.”
“I have to take these to my friends,” she said and turned away.
A few steps later she paused and turned back.
“Gus?” she called back.
“Yes, Patty?”
“If you get one,” she pointed to the edge of the table. “Get the ones with the cherry on them. They are so good.”
“Okay!”
Patty turned and walked to a table filled with other kids about her age and she passed the cakes around and they all began gobbling them down. Gus retained the smile on his face and stood, watching over the desserts and eyeing the children at the table across the way.
Later in the evening as the party moved into a more festive spirit and the bluegrass began drifting through the humid summer air from the barn, the crowd moved away from the food tables set up in on the lawn to the folding chairs that lined the floor of the barn in front of the makeshift stage. Gus was helping the other catering staff clean up the buffet and wrap leftovers. But he couldn’t help but notice, with a partial view of the stage inside the barn, that Patty’s father had got on the microphone and called her to the stage.
“You all know my daughter Patty,” Mr. Montgomery said.
The gathering crowd let out a smattering of applause.
“I tried to convince her to sing one for us, but she is refusing,” he continued as the people collectively moaned to encourage the little girl to sing.
“But the good news is, she’s going to help us out in another way. This little one can whistle like nobody’s business,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
He turned to the rest of the band, “Let’s do it, boys.”
The band struck up their own rendition of “The Wildwood Flower” and the crowd came to life as the guitar, played by a local dentist, began plucking out the familiar tune.
Sherry Buckingham, the 70-year-old wife of the local funeral director that Mrs. Montgomery worked for, was on the stage as well providing vocals to the song.
Oh, I’ll dance, I will sing and my laugh shall be gay.
I will charm every heart, in his crown I will sway.
When I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay.
All portion of love had all flown away…
With that, Patty stepped to the front of the stage and began whistling in perfect pitch the melody usually plucked out by the lead guitar on the song. The crowd applauded and she continued, whistling the tune of the entire next verse before Mrs. Buckingham took back over on vocals.
Gus watched from the distance, only able to hear the music and whistling and seeing only the legs of the band up on the stage inside the barn.

***

“Has anyone seen Patty?” Mrs. Montgomery said aloud with some level of concern in her voice.
The party was over now and most of the guests had filed out and left the family’s property. Sylvia’s catering crew was busy cleaning up the last of the mess when she noticed one of her crew had also disappeared.
She walked over to a black lady named Louise who had worked for her full time in the bakery for several years.
“Louise, where is the new guy? Gus?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, ma’am.” She said, continuing to gather up the last of the chafing dishes and load them into the box trailer for transport back to the shop. “Ain’t seen him in at least a half hour. Figured he wandered off to have a cigarette or something. He did that a few times tonight. Nice man, it seems. But he ain’t the best worker I’ve ever seen.”
“Hmmhmm,” Sylvia said. “I’ll have a look around. He needs to be up here helping, y’all.”
“I agree,” Louise said.
Mrs. Montgomery had become visibly worried and she approached her sister.
“Is Patty somewhere with your folks?” she asked. “I haven’t seen her in awhile. I thought maybe she was sneaking some more sweets.”
“No,” Sylvia answered. “I haven’t seen her in at least an hour.”
“I’m starting to get worried,” she said. “This isn’t like her.”
Patty’s parents, along with the catering crew, began searching for her all over the grounds without success. After another half hour the concern had turned to panic and even Mr. Montgomery who had dismissed the disappearance as just “the kids being kids” had began wondering what was really going on. An hour later, he and his wife had called Dan Lofton, the county sheriff, and told him that Patty was missing. The sheriff, being a long-time friend of Mr. Montgomery came to the house immediately and brought along two more cars and a pair of deputies to help them search.
It was well past midnight before Sylvia, who had sent the staff back to the shop with the equipment and stayed behind with her sister, remembered that Gus had disappeared and never came back. When she brought up his name, Sheriff Lofton froze.
“What’s the matter, Dan?” Mrs. Montgomery asked.
After a brief pause, he turned squarely toward Sylvia.
“Gus Roberts worked this party for you tonight?” he said solemnly.
“Yes,” she answered. “Why?”
The sheriff turned away for a moment, visibly gathering his thoughts, and turned back to Mr. Montgomery.
“I don’t want to scare you folks,” he said.
“Too late, Dan,” Mrs. Montgomery said. “What in the hell is going on?”
“Well,” the sheriff paused again and glanced at the three faces anxiously awaiting the next words from his lips. “Roberts has a history.”
“What history?” Mr. Montgomery said, then glared at his sister-in-law. “Who did you hire, Sylvia?”
Sylvia’s face turned pale and her eyes widened.
“I don’t know,” she said, voice shaking. “Just a guy. I don’t know anything about him…”
“Listen,” the sheriff continued. “It might be nothing. He was never convicted of anything, but he used to live in a town up in Kentucky where some kids went missing. He was investigated and they ended up convicting some teenage kid of the whole thing. But when he moved here because of the public opinion about him, the police up there called me and told me to keep an eye on him because they thought despite the trial that they got the wrong man.”
“And you didn’t do anything?” Mr. Montgomery said, nearly shouting.
“Oh my God,” Mrs. Montgomery gasped.
“Now it might not be anything,” he continued. “Hell, if we weren’t friends I wouldn’t even tell you that. But I know where he lives, I’m headed over there right now.”
“I’ll go with you,” Mr. Montgomery said.
They trotted off to the car as the sheriff instructed one of the deputies to follow him and the other to stay behind with Mrs. Montgomery.
Sylvia called out after the sheriff as he approached his car, “What whole thing?”
Dan turned back to Sylvia, “What?”
“They convicted some teenage kid of WHAT whole thing?”
The sheriff paused.
“Not now,” he said, and they two got in the car and sped away to the residence of Gus Roberts.

***

“Mr. Roberts,” the sheriff called out, banging on the front door of the house with his fist. “Mr. Roberts, it’s Sheriff Lofton. I need to speak with you a moment.”
The sheriff had instructed Mr. Montgomery to stay in the car until he had a chance to talk to the man. The deputy had positioned himself at the bottom of the porch stairs in case anything went wrong or in case Mr. Montgomery decided to go for the jugular as soon as he laid eyes upon the potential abductor of his child.
But there was no answer.
“I think we got probable cause,” the Sheriff said. “Don’t you, Eddie?”
The deputy nodded and Sheriff Lofton kicked in the door with his boot heel, the two drew their guns and stepped inside. Mr. Montgomery opened the car door and stood beside the car.
“Stay out here, Jake” the deputy called out. “We’ll get you if we need you.”
He nodded and stayed put.
Inside the home everything appeared normal. There was no insane scribbling on the walls written in blood, no pornographic photos of children, no dolls with the heads ripped off. In fact, the house was not only very normal in appearance, but extraordinarily clean and tidy. There hadn’t been a serial killer or child abductor case in the known history of the town, and the sheriff had certainly never worked one. But this isn’t how he’d imagined a prime suspect’s home would look. A quick search led the two men back to the front door where they found a curious Mr. Montgomery creeping across the lawn toward the porch.
“Ain’t nothing suspicious here aside from the fact that he ain’t home,” Eddie said.
“It’s true,” the sheriff confirmed. “But where in the hell is he?”

***

Atop a tree-covered hill just outside of town a two-story white house stood looking out over a meadow and a creek. It was a place where anyone should feel lucky to live. Privacy, quiet, no neighbors close by, a wrap-around porch and a trickling stream meandering its way between the house and the road.
The house belonged to a family that had moved to Tennessee from the English countryside village of Bath. The Rochester family had read about Tennessee in Mark Twain’s book “The Gilded Age” and had decided to move to the States a few years later. The wealthy family had chosen the town randomly and had hired a crew to build the home, sight unseen, before they had ever even been there. When they arrived the home was complete and paid for, ready to move into. The only exception was that there had never been a driveway constructed across the creek and when the family arrived they realized they’d have to build a bridge across it from the nearby field to even move furniture in. Eventually they took care of the task, constructing a temporary foot bridge and parking their car in the meadow until more permanent arrangements could be made. The Rochester family liked the home and were happy there for a time until Mr. Rochester’s mother got gravely ill and the family returned to England to be with her until her death.
Gus Roberts had been hired by the Rochester family to do odd jobs around the property. He cut down trees to improve the views from the upstairs bedroom windows and he raked leaves off the lawn, trimmed what little grass would grow under the heavy shade on the hillside. Whatever they needed, Gus would do it. And when they had to suddenly leave for England, not knowing how long they’d be gone, the family asked Gus to keep an eye on the place.
By the Fourth of July 1956 the Rochester family had been absent for five months. Gus had grown comfortable coming and going as he pleased, sometimes even spending the night at their home. He would get an occasional letter from them in the mail, which he checked every couple of days, and the latest one said that Mr. Rochester’s mother was likely in her final days and they expected to be home within a few weeks after all the arrangements were settled.
By the time Gus reached the house it was very late at night, and Patty had long since given up the struggle. She was bound at the ankles and wrists and gagged with a ball of rubber bands held in place by two connected handkerchiefs tied around her head. She had screamed and cried and struggled for about 15 minutes and then was so exhausted and overloaded with stress that she simply fell unconscious in the trunk of Gus’ car.
Gus was still bleeding from the bite.
At the party he had called out to Patty and asked her if she’d help him carry a tray of leftover sweets to his car. He said Sylvia has told him he could take them home, but he had to carry a stack of chafing dishes to the trailer. He pointed out his car and asked her to put the tray in the backseat. She agreed, always wanting to help, and then Gus followed her from a distance. Gus had parked his car far from the house in a shaded area where the lights from the Montgomery’s front porch wouldn’t reach. Most of the guests were gone and no one else had parked so far away. He crept up behind Patty as she put the tray into the backseat and grabbed her round the waist, pressing her legs against the edge of the backseat with his knee and placing his hand tightly over her mouth. Patty bit down hard, drawing blood and fracturing a bone in his middle finger. Gus muffled a yell and slammed Patty’s face into the platter of cookies, quickly reached into the floorboard and grabbed a ball of rubber bands and forced them into her mouth. He reached again into the floorboard and got the handkerchiefs and tied the ball in place quickly, like he’d done it a thousand times. Like a rodeo cowboy roping a calf, he quickly tied her wrists and ankles and shoved her into the back floorboard and shut the door.
He got in the car, blood streaming from his hand, cursing the girl and drove down the road about a mile and pulled over. He dragged her from the backseat by her hair in anger and threw her to the ground by his car as he fumbled with the keys and opened the trunk. He picked her up as she fought him and dropped her like a sack of garbage into the back of the car and slammed the trunk closed.
He heard her banging around in the trunk and he heard muffled screams for a few miles, but before he got to the house they had stopped – quite suddenly.
He carried Patty’s limp body across the footbridge into the Rochester’s house and went upstairs with her, laying her in the bed where the Rochester’s youngest daughter usually slept. He untied her ankles and wrists and then tied them more securely to the headboard and footboard of the canopy bed. He took a length of rope and added more security by strapping her down to the mattress so she could only barely move.
Fearing she’d choke to death if she vomited out of nervousness or swallowed her tongue, he removed the ball of rubber bands and left her mouth free. He knew no one would hear her up in the woods on the hill anyway. And no one likely knew of his connection to the property. He could do whatever he wanted up there for weeks, and no one would be the wiser.
The search for Patty Montgomery and Gus Roberts went on for weeks without leads. Sheriff Lofton contacted the police department up in Kentucky to find out more information on the case that Roberts had been connected to.

***

“You need another beer, Jimmy?” Perk said to me, breaking the rhythm of his story. He already had one in his hand fresh from the cooler, dripping with icy cold water.
“Yep,” I said, putting my hands up.
He tossed the can to me and the cold water splashed in my face again as I caught it.
“Splash, sucka!” he laughed.
Perk continued the story and we were all hanging on every word.
“So anyway, the sheriff finds out that there had been four Kentucky kids go missing over the course of about a year. People kept saying they thought Roberts had snatched them and raped them or some shit. But there was never any evidence. Instead, there was some 18 year-old dude who was mentally unstable or something. The story was all over the papers up there, as you can imagine, and he heard about it and decides to just go around town telling people that he had raped these kids and chopped them up or something gross like that.
“Well, people didn’t really take him seriously, but here was an admission of guilt and there was no evidence to the contrary and they wanted the case closed, so they wrapped it up and old Gus Roberts never got arrested for it. Even when they found the bodies they couldn’t find evidence against Gus.”
Dane scooted even closer to the fire across from Perk, almost leaning into it.
“So they found the Kentucky kids?” he said.
Perk nodded.
“Yep,” he said. “All but one.
“They found them at three different abandoned houses out in the backwoods or something. And they determined that there hadn’t been any raping or chopping up. It was nothing like that.
“Then what killed them?” I asked.
“Time,” Perk grinned. “Old Gus tied them to the bed in these houses and just left them there, never giving them anything but a sip of water. They starved to death.”
“Jesus Christ!” Joey spoke up. “Is that shit for real? How do you know this.”
“It’s all there in the Kentucky papers to research,” Perk said, not liking to be doubted. “Read a fuckin’ newspaper sometime, Joey.”
“I was just askin’,” he said.
“Alright then,” Perk continued. “But here’s the creepiest part.”
We all turned our eyes momentarily to the house on the hill and then settled them back on Perk. I could tell he was enjoying the fact that we were all on edge, waiting to hear more.
“Although they never proved who did it, there is a lot of speculation about what he did with those kids, and with Patty here at this house.
“It turns out Roberts was a music nut. He loved listening to music. Especially live music. And he liked to be serenaded I suppose. He was married once when he was young, to a woman who sang and played piano. She got cancer or something and died and he lost his mind pretty much. People who knew him in Kentucky said that he stopped talking to people, quit his job and started doing odd jobs just to get by and became real reclusive. Except he’d always show up and sit in the back of the room at concert halls nearby to listen to live music. And some say he played records constantly at home. Some other people say he’d sit there and jerk off while listening to them – but that’s just something people used to say crazy people did.
“If that’s crazy, put me in the nut house, you know what I’m sayin?” Perk laughed and we all did, too.
“Anyway, it turns out that the four kids that went missing in Kentucky all had some musical talent. One girl was a singer in the choir at his church. Another girl played a guitar some and another one played a violin or some shit. I don’t know. But anyway they all had musical talent. And the story goes that he would tie these kids up and they would get thirsty that they’d do anything for a drink of water. So he’d reward them with a little water if they’d play a tune on the guitar or sing a song or whatever. If they refused and got defiant he’d beat them with a belt.”
“Good God,” Joey said. “That is messed up.”
“So he’d have Patty whistle,” I spoke up and Perk looked at me.
“Very good, Jimmy,” he said, smiling.
“He tied her up in this house right here,” I continued. “And when she wanted something he’d make her whistle ‘The Wildwood Flower.’ And if she didn’t she was starved or beaten.”
“That’s it! You do know this story.”
“No,” I said. “I didn’t until now. It just makes sense – somehow.”
“Yes,” Perk said. “The story says that he wallpapered the room she stayed in with all the newspaper clippings about her abduction. Twice per week when the paper would come out it would get stuffed into the box out by the road. He’d come in and hang up a new clipping if there was one and he’d tell her to whistle that tune you did at the party.
“At first she refused and quickly learned that all that got her was no water and a lot of beating. So she conformed and she’d whistle it as best she could so she could drink. One day she couldn’t whistle. Her body had become so dehydrated that her lips were just too dry to whistle and there was no spit left in her mouth to wet them with. But Gus didn’t care. He expected results anyway and he stopped giving her water. Within a few days she slipped into a coma and died. He left her there.
“The Rochester family found her body a month later when they arrived back from England. The girl’s corpse weighed about 45 pounds and the walls were covered in clippings about the case. The family abandoned the house and nobody ever saw Gus Roberts again.
“They say on certain nights when the wind is blowing just right you can hear her whistle the tune and there are still clippings hanging on the walls in the bedroom.”
We all sat in silence for a moment before Dane spoke up.
“Let’s do it,” he said anxiously. “I’ll admit I’m scared shitless to see if those clippings are really there. But I must know.”
We all agreed and got up, each grabbing a fresh beer and headed toward the drainpipe that led across the creek.
As we stepped upon the drainpipe and carefully balanced ourselves on it to move across the creek to house in front of us, a gust of wind blew down the hollow. We all shivered and tried to maintain balance. Jason led the way, surprisingly. The wind picked up speed and howled through the house, producing an unusual whistling noise that stopped us in our tracks.
Jason turned on the drainpipe and faced us and began to sing.
Oh, I’ll dance, I will sing and my laugh shall be gay.
I will charm every heart, in his crown I will sway.
When I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay.
All portion of love had all flown away