SECOND PLACE WINNER
51 Hill View Street
A short story by Will Neill
Just like it says on the post mark, my house-51, sits top of the Hill, and yes I do get a good view of the valley. Bin livin’ here oh, must be nigh on 60 years give or take a month or so. Me and Gracie we moved in here new just after the war. Summer of 1946 to be exact. Boy were we excited, new home and a baby on the way. The big ash tree that’s just at the side of the house, the one that blocks out the sun each afternoon was no more than a sapling back then. You can’t miss it once you turn in from Hill Avenue; that big ole boy sits high above the hill’s crest, poke’ n skyward.
Billy Dawson built these houses. Decent man–didn’t deserve to get murdered collectin’ the payroll for his men. We were the first to get a mortgage from that old skinflint Barney Hightower at the First National bank of Massachusetts; thought we couldn’t afford the deposit see’n as how I was just out of the Marines. Five hundred and sixty dollars was a heck of a lot of money in 1946. Barney was shot an killed along side Billy Dawson when they robbed the bank three weeks after we’d bin to visit him. Some say he got his head blown clean off by a twelve bore. Musta bin true–his widaw Bell and his two sons Tom and Clancy kept the lid on the coffin ‘fore he was buried up in Claymount. I can still see that fat son of a bitch just sittin’ there in his imitation brown leather swivel chair sweatin’ and smokin’ a big fat stoggy while statin’ how things were tough in the world of finance. I sure wiped the smile offa his face when I slammed down my $560.00. He never said much after that, just drew up them papers quiet like.
Can’t say I liked the fella some myself, but Gracie wouldn’t hear me speak ill a the dead, and they didn’t catch those bank robbers either, not that I’ve heard anyhows. Others say it was an inside job that had gone wrong. Word was ole Hightower was a gambler–owed a lot a money to Jack Shipton the casino boss who runs the ‘Double Dealer’ over on main street. Fond of black jack was the word. Not so lucky at it neither they say–that big guy Shipton, put you in mind of that base-ball player Babe Ruth. Rumor was he collected what was owed with a base ball bat, called it ‘Darlin’ too, just like the Babe did. I remember once I was lookin’ out my living room window–the one that’s at the side of the house next to the tree–now I was just standin’ there, suppin’ on a cup of coffee ‘fore I headed off to my evening shift up at the factory, when I see a big ole blue Cadillac pullin’ up just outside a my neighbor’s house. An guess who was a drivin’? Yup, Jack the ‘Snake’ Shipton. Now, I thought it wise just to step back a tard into the shadows casin’ he looked my direction. Gracie, she was sleepin’ upstairs with little Kate who had just turned a year that month; so I was being real quiet.
I watched him lift ‘Darlin’ outta the trunk ‘fore he looked the Hill up an down. Next I see him rappin’ on Bobby Deslow’s door like he was a mail man delerverin’ a package. Soon as Bobby walked out, Jack took the legs from under him with a single side swipe. Poor Bobby go down on his knees; then, in the glow of his own porch light, I saw Shipton crack his head open like a ripe water melon. I heard the echo at the back of my yard. Cool as you like , Jack, he just sauntered back to his car leavin’ Bobby twitchin’ on his drive.
His wife Mary, she kept his casket closed likewise. Never had kids them two. Cryin shame if you ask me. Six months later, the bank foreclosed on their property. Mary went a bit do-wally after that; she spent the next five years up at the sanatorium.
Jessie Metcalf lived across street from me. We met in town one Saturday morning just outside Farnboroughs drug store. “Fine day Bill,” she said pullin’ me into the doorway.
“You heard the news?”
I removed my hat outta manners. “No Ma’am,” I replied, perplexed. She rarely spoke to me, mostly preferring to gossip with Gracie.
“‘You mean you haven’t heard about Mary Deslow?”
“No ma’am I can’t say that I have.”
Jessie, she move in closer, and god help me her breath, it stink like pig shit.
“Gone and hanged herself. Poor woman.”
Now Jessie Metcalf, she look like Betty Davis. Same sort a eye’s and thin face. But she dress like an old bag woman, wouldn’t think she be the richest lady on Hillview. Worth thousands I heard.
“Yes’um Bill, up there at the Sanatorium. She her done wrapped her bed sheet round her neck and swung from her own door handle.”
I shook my head and said a silent prayer, but I thought god works in mysterious ways. I believe it was him just balancing the books. By the time I’d reached home I was sure the whole town woulda known about Mary Deslow. Jessie woulda seen to that.
Do you remember me talkin’ about Tom and Clancy Hightower? Turns out, ten years later, after Mary killed herself, them two boy’s musta heard about old Jessie Metcalf’s fortune and went lookin’ for it one October evening . I recall that time cause we were havin’ one hell of a thunder storm. That night, at about ten thirty, in the cover of the thunder, Tom and Clancy broke into Jessie’s house. Power line’s were down so it was black as coal. Jessie must a heard them comin’ up the stairs. In between the thunder and the lightin’ flashes, using her son’s service pistol, she put two rounds into Clancy’s chest and one into Tom’s back as he was runnin’ out the front door.
Johnny Metcalf served in the 29th infantry Division. Got shot to pieces on Omaha beach; they found him still holdin’ his gun. Never fired a single shot. Poor bastard. Some of his friends brought it home as a keep sake for his mother. I’s pretty sure them was the same bullets he loaded that mornin’ ‘fore he got into the landin’ craft. Jessie was never the same after that; she left and went to live with her sister down in Copertino, California. Willed all her money to her niece Susan who loaned some of it to a collage friend a hers, a fella named Steve Jobs in 1976, somthin’ to do with apples I heard. Just goes to show people must like apples. She ended up a multi-millionaire .
Every so often I kinda think that’s maybe why they never caught them bank robbers.
Yes sir I’s seen it all over the years from upon this Hill. One time Gracie, Kate, and I was up in Texas the day that J F. Kennedy was shot. We was takin’ pictures with Kate’s new camera of the cavalcade when he was hit. Poor man. Never did get that camera back from the F.B.I. Kate took some of a guy with a rifle just behind the wall at the grassy knowl where we was standin’. We was sure it was him, but it turns out it was that fella ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’ up at the book depository.
Kate did well for herself, left college and took up journalism. Got a good job, too, wit the local newspaper. She wrote a piece about the Vietnam War, next thing she knows, some big shot passin’ through town up and read it. Give her a job on Time’s Magazine. He liked it that much. Sent her out there spring of 72′ to cover the withdrawl of troops. The army brought her home in a box that Easter; she got caught up in the 17th parallel when the Viet Cong invaded again. I surely miss my little girl.
Time magazine felt really bad about what happened to Kate; they offered me an Gracie a week-long stay at the Watergate Hotel around June that year. Nice enough place, don’t get me wrong–but we left after a couple of days. The bell hop told us some guys broke in at the office building next door. They must a stole somethin’ real important. Police were every where, makin’ one hell of a racket, so we checked out early.
Me? Well, I worked up in the shoe factory until I was 65. Gracie died that autumn, took a stroke. God I loved that woman! She used to say I was her Clarke Gable. Dunno about that, but she sure looked like Vivian Leigh when we first met. Hard to believe she’s bin gone twenty years. Never thought I’d live this long, no sir. Toni Moreli was the brother of Mary Deslow, he used to own the factory up until I retired; sold it off to two guys for a hefty sum I found out. Toni always liked to brag he was pals with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, but I think their names were Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. Wanted to extend their company that made tennis shoes. They even gave them shoes a name, ‘Nicky’ or somethin’ fool like that. Don’t figure they’ll catch on if you’re askin’ me. Then there was the darnest thing, when them builders, Billy Dawson’s two boys, were renovating the factory for new machine room, they only gone and found a skeleton buried in one a the walls they was knockin’ down. The local paper said it was the strangest thing, it had a cracked skull and, now get this,a base-ball bat was found stickin’ outta it’s rear end.
I suppose I’d better open this letter I just got this mornin’, ‘fore I started strollin’ down memory road. Well, they sure got my name right:
Mr. William Willows
51 Hillview Street
Looks like it’s from the Government, let me see now.
Dear Mr Willows, please find within our compulsory purchase order to commandeer your home in order to make way for the construction of a new highway due to be built next year. The four lane road will run directly through your area making it necessary to demolish all the homes on Hillview Street.
Taking into account your age, and knowing you have no living relatives we have reserved a room at the Mellow Place retirement home. We trust you will consider this offer, you have three months to comply.
Signed Virgil Hightower
Mellow Place Retirement Home, sounds quite a nice place, ifin’ you say it quick enough, but somehow I don’t think it’s for me. Strange how things work out. Must be God just balancing the books again I reckon. Time I was with Gracie anyhows. Bin thinkin’ about her a lot lately.
Better go clean that pistol of mine I kept since I landed on Sword beach back in 44′. Lord knows I wouldn’t want it to go off accidental like.
Will Neill 2013
Despite trying to keep up with several characters, I found this story very engaging. I feel as if I’m on the narrator’s front porch sipping lemonade, listening to him ramble and reminisce as the sun goes down on The Hill. Kudos to Mr. Neill!