by Michael John Grist
Despite Cray Upson’s best efforts, Milo Pendolino refused to sell him a home on Moresca hill. He always claimed the homes were already full, but Cray knew better, so he plotted out a plan. He knew Milo owed the bank thousands for his construction costs as well as the mortgage on the land itself. Plus he had no outside income. He only had the homes he’d built, way up there on Pendolino Lane with the simple gravel track running up the side of the hill, and they never sold. Pendolino’s follies, they called them down in the town.
Cray checked. Milo’s homes were unlisted with real estate agencies. They were all wooden structures hand built by Milo himself. He was known as an excellent craftsman, dovetailing his homes into jigsaw perfection, but he never once tried to sell them. Cray heard reports of visitors trudging up the hill to look at the homes, and marveling at their outright beauty. 8 Victorian style homes arrayed along the cobbled Pendolino Lane. When they tried to view them, walk the Lane, Milo would appear from nowhere and shake their hands warmly.
Image from here.
“We’re interested in your homes,” they’d say. “Can we take a look?”
“Sorry,” he’d say. “You’re welcome to look, but they’re all already occupied.”
The visitors would look around at the empty homes, swing doors creaking in the wind, and laugh.
“Don’t be daft,” they’d say. “That one’s filled with cobwebs.”
“That’s where the spiders live,” Milo would say.
The visitors would leave, muttering “how much rent can spiders pay?” and go off to find another place to live.
Milo never wanted to sell, but Cray Upson was determined. He started work at the debt-carrying bank, Kant’s, and worked his way up over 3 years to become night-manager. He hated all the math and book keeping, but the intoxicating thought of high living up on Moresca hill, Pendolino Lane, kept him going.
1 year after he was made manager of Kant’s he went to see Pendolino Lane up close for the first time. He wanted to peruse the lovely wooden homes that so regally overlooked the town and to see about obtaining one for himself. Milo Pendolino was waiting for him at the top.
“Mr. Pendolino,” Cray said, brushing himself down and extending his hand. “My name is Mr. Upson, from Kant’s.”
“Ah,” Milo said, striding over, craftsman hammer slung in a loop from his dungarees, and shook Cray’s hand. “Pleasure,” he said. “Call me Milo. Can I offer you a beer?”
“I’m afraid I’m here on business, Mr. Pendolino.”
“Call me Milo,” said Milo. “And what business would that be?”
“It’s about the economy, I’m afraid. Times are hard. The bank is recalling loans to stay afloat.”
Milo nodded sympathetically. “That sounds bad.”
“Yes,” said Cray, “yes, I’m afraid it is quite bad. You see, your loan and mortgage is one of our largest, and is in fact on top of the list for recall.”
“Oh,” said Milo.
“Quite,” said Cray. “I’m terribly sorry to have to tell you this, but it looks like, unless there is a sudden solid return on the bank’s investment, such as a 50% repayment of all due debt, we will have to foreclose on you.”
Milo nodded. “That’s hard news,” he said.
“Yes,” said Cray. There was a long pause. “Well. I have the paperwork here, for you to look over.”
“That’s no good,” said Milo, waving away the papers. “I deal in words and handshakes, and I already spoke to you and shook your hand. I don’t need the paper to get the measure of a man.”
“I’m afraid we do though,” said Cray. “For the bank’s records. Sorry.”
“Right,” said Milo. “Well. You’ll be wanting half of the whole 40,000 then, will you?”
“That’s right,” said Cray, then paused. “Unless,” he said uncertainly, paused, then added a quiet “no,” shaking his head.
Milo watched him. Cray waited, but Milo said nothing.
“Unless,” repeated Cray, “there’s some way we can work round this.”
“Work round the economy?” asked Milo.
“Not the economy, no, the economy’s bad, but round you being at the top of the list.”
“But you said I was the biggest loan.”
“I did, yes, I remember saying that, but the truth of the matter is, there are a lot of loans out there, and it won’t be strictly necessary to recall them all.”
“Ah,” said Milo. “So it really isn’t so bad?”
“No,” said Cray, “it really is bad, and very serious, but it might just be possible to persuade the bank’s board to reconsider in your case if, and it’s a big if, if you can offer something concrete indicating the future profitability of your operation here.”
“So it’s not so bad if I can offer something to show that it’s good?”
“That’s right,” said Cray happily. “There’s a depression coming, and we don’t want to be caught out in the storm, do we? Let me be frank with you, Mr. Pendolino. You seem an intelligent man. I wouldn’t like to see you lose all this for the sake of one home.”
“One home?” asked Milo.
“Well, yes,” said Cray, cursing inwardly. That was supposed to have been Pendolino’s suggestion, not his. “It seems to me that one of these fine homes might just be enough to sway the board, a kind of down-payment, if you will.”
“Because the economy is bad?” asked Milo.
“Exactly,” said Cray.
“Tell me something, Mr. Upson,” said Milo softly, then paused. “Do you enjoy swindling people while you’re pretending to help them?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I told you I had your measure ever since the handshake, Mr. Upson, and not one bit has changed since then.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know blackmail when I see it,” said Milo. “And I’ve no time for it.”
“What?” cried Cray, aghast. “Are you accusing me of blackmail?”
“Quite plainly I am,” said Milo, “and I’ll thank you to quit playing silly beggars and apologize for it.”
“You have misunderstood me direly, Mr. Pendolino,” said Cray. “I am merely offering assurances.”
“Take your assurances and show them to your board of directors,” said Milo, “we’ll see what they make of them.”
Cray started to speak, but Milo raised his hand and cut him off. “Go home,” he said, “forget about ever worming your way into a Pendolino home. They are already occupied.”
Cray looked around, saw only empty homes and Pendolino’s wondrous craftsmanship everywhere. “This isn’t over,” he said, then turned and walked away. He thought he heard many voices snickering behind him, but didn’t turn to look.
He fell twice going down the hill’s gravel track and tore his $700 suit beyond repair.
In Rosemary’s bar that night Cray ranted drunkenly about the crazy guy on the hill.
“All those homes,” he’d call out, slurring his s’s, “all on the hill, and who’s living there?”
One of his friends would answer.
“That’s right, you idiot,” Cray would reply. “Nobody. What a total waste.”
One of his friends would ask what was wrong with his townhouse.
“You bloody idiot, the townhouse is fine, OK?” he’d reply. “Fine! I’m not talking about the townhouse! I’m talking about the Pendolino hill-homes. Are you even listening?”
His friends suggested he check the loan, call it in if it would make him feel any better.
“You bet your butt I will,” said Cray.
So that’s what he did, the next day at work.
Two weeks later and no 50% return on the loan, Cray had a posse of bailiffs at his back, 6 stocky men in ill-fitting suits, and a policeman. They climbed Moresca hill at 9 in the morning, Cray packing a briefcase filled with all the pertinent documents.
Milo was waiting for them at the top, sitting at a desk set out at the end of Pendolino Lane, 8 chairs spread out before it, a large black iron cauldron sat atop it. He stood up to greet them and smiled.
“Here’s your money,” he said, tapping the cauldron. It made a low bonging sound. “I’ll expect you off my premises within the hour,” then he walked away and down Pendolino Lane.
“Go ahead then,” said Cray, pointing at the cauldron. “Take a look.”
One of the bailiff’s stepped up, looked in, gasped, then grinned back at them.
“What is it?” asked Cray, hesitant to look himself. The bailiff reached in, and lifted out a thin yellow metal bar.
“Ho hoh,” said the policeman. “There you have it.'”
Cray ran up to the cauldron and looked in. Sure enough, it was full of gold. He scratched at a bar with his keys, but it stayed gold.
“Well well,” he said.
“Bet this is a first,” said the policeman.
“Weird guy, huh?” asked a bailiff.
“Yes, he is,” said Cray. “Let’s get this down to the bank.”
He didn’t carry any of the gold himself, but he still slipped and fell five times on the way down, ruining a second suit. Not one of the bailiffs slipped, though they were laden down with gold. The policeman thought it was terribly funny.
“You keep falling,” he said. “You came up here to shut him down, and now you just keep falling down. I think that’s really funny.”
“Shut up,” said Cray, but the policeman laughed on anyway. The bailiff’s joined in too.
“It’s not often the bank gets dumped on its ass like this,” said the policeman. “Let them have their fun.”
Cray didn’t like it, but they were carrying the gold, so there was nothing he could do.
That night in Rosemary’s he got drunk and loud and angry. He smashed a pool cue over the back of a chair and generally raged about. His friends told him to chill out, but he couldn’t.
“He’s laughing at me right now,” he said. “Up in his hill fort, chuckling away and playing with his gold.”
His friends asked how he’d gotten the gold.
“No idea, probably got a bunch of leprechauns living up there helping him out. Wouldn’t be surprised, everyone else helps him out.”
His friends said they didn’t.
“You?” cried Cray. “Who’s talking about you? I’m talking about Pendolino who lives on the hill. Not you!”
So go talk to him then, said his friends. Smash pool cues at his place, not here. We don’t need this.
“Fine,” shouted Cray. “That’s what I’ll do!”
And, that very night, that’s what he did.
He unlocked the shotgun from the bank’s security cupboard and pumped fat red shells into the breach. He stuffed others in his pockets. He put the gun in a sports bag, stopped by the off license for another bottle of vodka, then headed out for Moresca hill.
Halfway up he’d drank half the bottle, so he figured he’d best off drink the other half by the top. He fired a few shotgun blasts off at the moon, swigged his vodka, and climbed the gravel trail. His palms and knees were soon filthy with stumbling and scrabbling.
At the top of the Moresca he saw something he couldn’t believe. His vision was blurred and he was halfway asleep but he saw what he saw. No Pendolino Lane. No shady elm lined cobbled road. No Victorian mansions. Instead, he saw a fire, a great fire burning up into the sky. Licks of flame seemed to trickle at the stars above, gossamer fine like fishing thread, somehow tangling together. He watched as pulses of light phased from the stars down to the fire.
He saw the figures dancing. Like swirls of purple veil, shapeless and shifting in the wind and the shadows of the flickering bonfire’s light. He heard a distant singing, though he didn’t recognize the sounds or the notes. He saw more purple figures dancing out of the fire.
“Got you!” he cried out, and charged the dancing veils, firing off the shotgun. “Caught you red-handed!”
The veils ignored him. He found himself in their midst, where the cobbled center of Pendolino should have been, surrounded by the smooth verve of flowing silk, fires against the dawning sky. He dropped to his knees, tossed the empty bottle at the flames, and aimed his wavering shotgun at a purple veil. Fired. It exploded and bloomed in a bright red firework burst. He turned the shotgun on the sky and took out one of the silver threads trailing into the fire.
He saw Pendolino’s face before him, crowned by waving tentacles.
“Nice hair, Milo,” he said, and pointed the shotgun and fired.
“Let’s all eat the stars,” said the blooming Pendolino, though Cray couldn’t be sure that was what he really said. “Let’s go sing a song.”
“Leprechauns,” he muttered, and continued firing until all his shells were spent and the dance became a swirling black world around him.
The police found him the next day on the top of Moresca hill. He was lying on a stack of iron bars painted yellow with a shotgun in one hand, empty vodka bottle in the other, spent shell cartridges all around him, next to the blasted dead body of an unknown man with no identification.
He jabbered when roused, and screamed as the iron bracelets were slipped over his wrists, his rights read, and his crimes explained to him. He wailed and pointed at the empty hilltop, but there was nothing there for the police to see. Eventually they put a gag on him.
In court his friends testified that he’d started coming into the bar covered in dirt and frantically talking about some Milo Pendolino. He’d talked about the Moresca hilltop, and the glorious homes up there, and they’d played along with it until he got violent and started smashing pool cues. Then they’d kicked him out.
The same pattern was repeated in his work place, he’d come in aggressive with dirt on his knees and asking to see the gold. They’d eventually had to fire him, but had sent a counselor round to his townhouse, only to find him absent and unavailable for counseling.
He was found guilty for murder in the first degree but with diminished capacity. He was ascertained as being violently schizophrenic and sent to a high security medical facility. The charges were reduced when the mortician failed to provide the dead body the day after it was recovered. “It was just gone,” he said in court. “It was definitely there when I locked up the night before.”
A woman out walking her dog reported seeing what looked like a man in a purple gown dancing through the streets, coming from the direction of the morgue. The jury discounted this testimony as irrelevant. Cray Upson strained against his gag as the evidence was refuted, but no one let him speak since he was certifiably crazy and he never got the chance to make them see the connection.
He lives to this day in the high security wing of Pendolino sanitarium. At night, he dreams of gold and leprechauns. It isn’t such a bad life for a mad man. They let him play with a calculator, if he’s very good, and that seems to keep him happy.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]