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(from the unpublished book "The Hilltop Memoir and Tales From Dark Places")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

The Finale that Never Was

okay.... you win.
One reader brings it to my attention that I have gone the way of series like "Deadwood" or "Heroes" and never finished the deal. So this post is for that person, and anyone else who still remembers what had happened leading up to the finale in The Hilltop Memoir. Here is the last piece.

ps. you're still not going to be satisfied, John.



In Memoriam



When six weeks had passed and the investigation into the murders and the abductions had turned up nothing, the town finally began moving on. The children had not returned and there was no evidence found that would lead the police to where the children were being kept or where their bodies may have been disposed of.
Although the crimes were obviously still weighing heavily on the minds of the community, and especially the 10 families that had experienced the loss of their children, the newspaper and television stations only occasionally mentioned the case now. For about a month it was the lead story in every edition and every broadcast. Anytime the Lawrence police turned up any dead-end clue, it was a rehashing of the entire story over again. Personally, I was glad that much of it had stopped.
There were “for sale” signs all along Hilltop Drive. People didn’t want to remain here with all the bad memories. Our house, although we hadn’t lost anyone, was up for sale like many of the others. My parents had decided that they were willing to take a loss on the house just to get to another part of town. They did sell it eventually, and I never spent another Halloween on Hilltop. That was fine by me. Nearly all of my friends were gone. My friend Matt and I grew closer in those last few months, but I was pretty lonely in the neighborhood and found that I looked forward to school much more than I used to.
I became a pretty good student and got into a lot less trouble without the Andersen influence in my life and I made new friends that lived in another neighborhood zoned to my school. When we eventually moved, I realized I had a whole new set of neighborhood kids to hang out with. By eighth grade things were back to normal.
But before the move things were anything but normal. Despite no hard evidence that the missing kids were deceased, the parents of the missing had banded together and decided on a memorial for all of them at a nearby church on December 23. Nearly two months after the disappearance, the parents realized they would have to begin accepting the idea that they’d never see their children again – that there would be no closure.
The day before the memorial the phone rang at my house and my mother picked it up and began cheerfully chatting to Mrs. Peeler. Mrs. Peeler was involved in the planning of the memorial. She was a nice lady who had taken on a leadership role in the wake of the Halloween crimes. When people began showing interest in forming a neighborhood watch, Mrs. Peeler was the one spearheading the effort.
When the community began erecting crosses and wreaths in recent weeks in memory of children who had gone missing, Mrs. Peeler was the one who went and talked to the parents and asked them if they would allow them to put the items in their front yards. She had been met with some hostility at the suggestion the kids were dead, but had worked her magic, saying it would be a nice thing for their school mates and friends to have a place to show how much they were thinking about them.
And that turned out to be the case. Kids from all over town, including ones that I was certain didn’t even know some of them, left folded letters, flowers, lit candles, various items that must have meant something, photos and much more. I even put a baseball by Keb’s cross, because we had originally met when we were both assigned to the same Little League team before we even lived across from one another.
All in all the sentiment from the community was a bit much. There were so many cards and pictures and random shit strewn about the victim’s lawns that each time a hard wind blew it was like a cyclone of trash. Behind closed doors, the families without children missing secretly hoped that the memorial would put an end to all of this “bullshit.” I know I heard my dad say that at least once. Mom stayed quiet about it, neither approving nor disapproving of it all.
Mrs. Peeler had gotten our phone number from someone at the church, apparently. Mom later commented that it must be an acquaintance of hers named Betty who went to church there, because she didn’t know anyone else who might have the number. Mrs. Peeler asked mom if she was planning to attend the memorial, and she said yes. She explained that many of the missing children were friends of mine.
With the confirmation from my mother, Mrs. Peeler then revealed why she was calling. She wondered if my mother would mind making cheesecake for the event. Many people were donating food for a wake-like reception after the ceremony and she had been told that my mother’s cheesecake was legendary. Apparently this was something else that helped my mom confirm Betty as the source of the phone number. I don’t know why.
Mom asked how many cheesecakes and Mrs. Peeler told her two would be great. My mom agreed, said she would make it three and they wrapped up the conversation. Suddenly, my mother was in a hurry.
“I have to get to the store,” she said. “Do you want to go?”
“No,” I answered. “Why?”
She explained about the phone call and said she had to go get ingredients and get to work on the cheesecakes. She began spouting off how many ounces of cream cheese she would need, and began mumbling about whether she should make a fruit topping to go on one and make the other one a pumpkin flavored one. It went on and on.
“I’m gonna stay here if that’s okay,” I said.
“Umm,” she finally paused to take a breath. “Okay. I’ll be back soon.”
She ran out to her car and I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sat down at the table with a cold glass of milk. I don’t know why I didn’t go with her. I probably could have conned my way into some fast food if I’d gone, and it’s not like I had anything fun to do at home. All my friends were dead for the most part.
After I finished eating I decided to draw. I was never good at drawing, but I liked to do it. Mark had been the best artist of all my friends, despite the fact that he drew strange images. But I could draw cartoon characters pretty good, and I liked making up the names and creating little one-page comic strips when I was bored. And these days I was bored a lot.
I realized I was out of drawing paper, but I knew that my mom kept a pack of typing paper on her desk in her bedroom and I went in there to get it.
I’m not sure what made me do it, because I’d never done it before, but I suddenly had the urge to snoop around. No one would be home for at least the next half-hour. And I had never looked in the cedar chest that sat at the end of my parent’s bed. It always had little statues and various other decorative items sitting on top of it. Today I decided to move them, remembering exactly where they sat, and open the cedar chest. But when I tried to open the lid it was locked. Having given up on the curious feeling, I put everything back where it belonged and went to the desk to find the typing paper. It was located in the lower right drawer of mom’s desk. While grabbing a few sheets I saw a small envelope taped to the inside of the drawer. I reached my finger down in it and was surprised to find a tiny key. It looked like it would fit the lock on the cedar chest. I tried it and the lock turned.
I quickly removed the items from the lid again and opened the chest, hoping to find something cool or at least something my parents didn’t want me to see. I heard a car door slam and panicked, assuming my dad had come home early from work or maybe my mom had forgotten her purse. I looked out of my bedroom window across the hall to the driveway and saw that it was only Rhoder, who had parked with one wheel on the curb in front of his house. He opened the door of his truck and beer cans fell into the street and he staggered toward the open garage.  This was nothing new, so I went back to the chest.
Inside I found a box of old photographs of Sophia and I as babies. I saw wedding photos and lots of pictures of old cars and several photos of people I recognized to be aunts, uncles, grandparents and many more photos from the years before I was even born.
The most curious thing I found, and the only items in the chest that appeared to have been placed there recently were two big, black plastic jugs half filled with liquid. They had been sitting right on top of the pile of stuff stowed in the cedar chest. I had set them aside on the floor beside me at first, not knowing or caring what they were. But after digging through the old photos, an old pair of my baby shoes, a lock of hair in a scrapbook and other sentimental boring stuff, I picked the bottles back up and placed them back in their original positions and got ready to close the lid. While putting the bottles back into the chest I saw that the labels identified the liquid inside them.
One was C-41 Colour Negative Developer and the other was something called C-41 Colour Negative Fixer. Further reading on the labels made me realize this was a photography product used for developing film. What puzzled me was that I had never known my parents to be into photography at all, let alone anything that required chemicals. Snapshots and the one-hour photo was the extent of our family’s photographic experience as far as I knew.
The confusion came and went and I assumed there was some explanation that was equally as boring as the rest of the things I’d found in the chest, and I put everything back in its place, locked the chest and replaced the key. I got my paper and went to the living room, turned on the television and watched MTV while I drew a cartoon strip I called “Codename: Spitfire.”
Mom returned home a short time later with all the ingredients for three cheesecakes and a big frozen pizza with pepperoni on it. She heated the oven and put the pizza in for us and I helped her mix cheesecake batter and licked spoons and ate pizza until all I wanted to do was lay down and sleep.
By the next night my mom had three gorgeous and delicious looking cheesecakes ready to take to the church. She sent my dad ahead with the cheesecakes and helped me “put on something decent” for the memorial. She made me wear a sweater that my grandmother had made me the previous winter. Luckily it had been too big last year and it fit pretty well now. But it was still hideous.
We arrived at the church to find nearly everyone in the neighborhood had turned out for it as well as a couple of hundred people from elsewhere in town or even curious cats from other towns. And the media was there in small numbers. The reporter from the Gazette and one cameraman from each of the three TV stations that serviced our area were in attendance.
The one exception was the Andersen family. They weren’t there at all, despite being the family that lost more children than anyone else. The twins and the notorious Stacey Threesome had all gone missing that night and only their younger sister Maria was still around.
Everyone chalked up their absence to the fact that they must had to be so grief-stricken that they simply couldn’t handle this event with its cameras and the inevitable and repetitious questions.
“How are you folks holding up?”
“Do you have anything to say to those responsible for all this, in case they are listening?”
 Tim and Sheryl Andersen had never been the most outgoing people to begin with, so they weren’t concerned about appearances. They didn’t really socialize with these people before, so why start now? It made sense to everyone.
As time passed I learned more reasons why they weren’t at the memorial. Tim and Sheryl were in the process of getting a divorce at that time. Sheryl’s long-time affair with a co-worker had not been enough to force the issue, despite the fact that Tim and the rest of the family knew about it and pretended it didn’t exist. But when Tim found a mistress, Sheryl wouldn’t put up with it. Rumor had it that Tim had been secretly seeing someone, but that Sheryl never figured out who it was. Whispers around the community suggested it was someone in the neighborhood. Who knows?
They ended up going their separate ways after a long and drawn out divorce battle. Sheryl bought out Tim and kept the house and got full custody of Maria. Soon after she sold the house to a couple from India and pissed off the majority of the milky-white neighborhood.
Tim left town completely, moving to Birmingham where he opened up his own business as a portrait photographer. I had never known it, but apparently Tim dabbled in amateur photography and had decided to make his passion his profession. Good for him, I guess.
The memorial was long and so was the list of speakers who came to the podium to talk about the kids who were apparently no longer with us. The string of people who wanted to be on the record as a friend of the victims seemed endless. It must have been because it made them somehow feel important or felt it gave them the right to some of the outpouring of sympathy from the community and beyond. I sat silently, listening to empty words. Some of them were tearful recollections of the times they spent with one of the kids. Some of them tried to lift spirits with a funny anecdote about one of them.
But the moment that has always stuck in my mind was when Keb’s mother, a woman we rarely saw around the neighborhood despite living directly across the street, got up and dedicated a passage of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” to her son. It was the only thing I recall hearing that night that actually made me want to cry.
I didn’t know the poem at the time, so it was like hearing something brand new and not a regurgitation of words written in the mid 19th century.
The part she read included what I later realized was a famous passage from the poem that included some very appropriate words. I still remember it all these years later, like it was yesterday.


I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

I could see from a distance that tears had welled in Rhoder’s eyes on the front pew of the church. Although he was obviously sedated by something, either booze or pills, he was alert enough to feel the pain of the situation, perhaps realizing for the first time that Keb really wouldn’t be back.
Although there were a few more people waiting to speak after her, each of them decided there couldn’t be a more fitting conclusion. She had been the last parent to speak, and she had probably said more heartfelt words than everyone else combined. It was immediately known that she was the finale.
Mrs. Peeler, who had also taken on the role of the emcee at the event thanked everyone and announced that anyone interested should go to the church’s reception hall.
The reception hall was filled will more food than three neighborhoods could have eaten in a night. My mom’s cheesecakes lasted about 10 minutes and I never got a piece. But that’s OK. I knew I’d be getting plenty of it in two more days on Christmas. Mom always made a cheesecake to take to relatives house on Christmas afternoon. I was actually looking forward to the trip for a change. I hadn’t been out of Lawrence since before the murders and I needed a change of scenery.
In March we got an offer on the house. In fact, we got two within two days. Both offers were for the full asking price. Our real estate agent worked the phones and actually got them into a bidding war over the place. Mom and dad ended up selling it for a little more than what they expected and we got a really cool house about 10 miles away, located deep in the woods. There were trails and cliffs, a creek and the house even had its own swimming pool.
The Nicholson murders and the child abductions were never solved as far as I know. What I do know is that popular opinion shifted regularly, and everyone on the planet was tried and convicted in the whispers of the people along Hilltop Drive. The crazy part is, I probably knew the killers personally and didn’t even know it.