Caleb Montgomery moved into what is known in Bannville as the Murder House. Nobody really calls it that, not in polite talk and not in the “for sale” ads that it often frequents. In those circulars it is known as the Patton Place. A large two story structure, the house stands as one of the jewels in the Streets section of town. Built by Oscar Patton around the turn of the century, the house had been the center of the Patton Oil Business until it went belly up and Oscar’s son had gone on a rampage in the place putting an end to the family line. Like I said, nobody talks about it in polite company.
After the murders, the house had stood empty for nearly a decade before a slew of tenants came and went. None ever reported anything mysterious or dangerous happening there, nothing supernatural at any rate, but it seems no one could ever seem to settle. During World War 2 it was made a home for soldiers training at the base to visit with their visiting wives or other ladies, but it mostly stood empty until the mid-90s when urban development came in.
The Bannville Homeowner’s Association petitioned the city to renovate the place, replace the wiring, clean up the growns and open it up for tourists. After several years of coughing over large tax bills, several prominent families stepped up and took the project on themselves. After the work was completed, the house did look fine, a monument to the prosperous early years.
But, as they do, people lost interest in the project. The tours slowed and stopped. The one event where the house was always featured, the Christmas Home Tour, was cancelled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the house slipped back into being the old monolith that it had been for nearly a century.
Then the Montgomery’s came in about a month ago. Caleb and his wife, Jessica, had sunk a ton of cash into the old place and it showed. Beyond the decorations for the party, I could see new varnish on all the floors, windows destroyed by storms replaced and shining, and fresh white paint still looking sticky on every surface required.
The inside of the house shone with past Christmas decorations and those for the party. I came in the back entrance, near the kitchen, where caterer’s and waiters prepared trays and bottles of champagne for midnight. Most of them greeted me, acquainted by some library function or another, and I snatched a couple of stuffed crab cakes and pigs in blankets to sate my hungry stomach.
This is my way. I do not like to make entrances, could care less to be recognised at the party. I like the organization of it, the hustle of the kitchen and the workers. Plus, if I had walked around the front of the party, through the thoroughfare of the white tents and up to the front door wearing my hunting jacket and torn jeans, my mother would have killed me.
No, I would rather slide in the back, say hello to the few people who I knew would get the word out that I was here, then slide out the way I came.
“Evan, so glad you could come,” Jessica’s voice came from above me.
I looked up and saw her descending from the stairs that lead to the small servants room above the kitchen. No doubt they were using the small room as storage for the food and other items. When I was young I used to sneak in there, hide in the small room with slanted ceilings and read. That should tell you something.
“Mrs. Montgomery,” I said, “You seem to have everything well under way.”
She came down the narrow staircase and walked to me, “Evan Banned, how many times? Call me Jess. And, oh, yes. Everything is going well. Except don’t eat too many of the crab cakes. Wicked farts.”
Jessica Montgomery was good people. If you were to take her on looks alone, she could have been the bitchy southern cheerleader in any movie. She wore her brown hair to her shoulders with some type of bow or flowery pin holding a bit back. I had never seen her in anything other than a dress, some fashionable number that accentuated an athletic body. For the party she had on a small black dress with a blue bow tied around her waist and a matching bow holding back her hair. An elegant look that was offset by the mischievous grin and constant awareness about her eyes. When I tried to find reasons to dislike Caleb, however petty, I always came back to his wife and though that if she liked him there can not be too much wrong with the guy.
“I’ll attempt to stay away then,” I said, “Have you seen my mother?”
“Last I saw she was in the front room,” she said, “Yes, lets start opening the bottles. Not staying long?”
She had noticed my casual attire and was rebuffing me for it. I was quite used to this.
“Well, I had not planned on attending really, although I wanted to of course.”
“Not in the holiday spirit? Or you just don’t like what we’ve done with the place?”
“Ha, no. Everything looks great. I’m more my father’s son on parties. Would rather be sitting reading.”
“Oh, pooh. You’re just like Caleb. He has all the fun in the planning but if I didn’t stand back here to shoo him out of the kitchen he’d be standing here staring at his phone. Now I’ll do the same to you. Go, get out there. Mingle.”
“I’m not really dressed for it...” I said.
“This ain’t church, Evan,” Jessica said, “Nobody’s gonna give a shit what you have on after the champagne starts flowing.”
She grabbed me by my shoulders and gave me a goodnatured push.
“Now get out there. Find you somebody to kiss at midnight.”
I laughed and looked at the swinging door in front of me. I knew she was right, I should just go out there, have a few drinks and have a good time. Slip out when I could. Avoid my mother and her annoyance at her uncouth son. But something was telling me to leave now, get out while I could. As I stared at the kitchen door, I knew that it was the point of no return. If I went into the house proper, I would be committed. I shook my head, laughing at how dumb that sounded. I could leave at any time, right?
“Go on,” Jess said, pushing my back again.
I walked through the door.