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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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Hippie House (20 page)

BOOK: Hippie House
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By the time I was dressed and outside, Eric was already helping to cut branches into firewood. There would be far more
than we needed to replenish our woodpile. Mr. Fraser was going to take a couple of loads, and Uncle Bud would be by later in the week for the very large pieces of branches and trunks that could burn in the castle's big open fireplace all day.

My job was to load the pieces into the trailer. It had been determined in my absence that I couldn't handle a saw.

Mom was also outside. Dressed to ward off the dirt, dung and dust particles in a ridiculous kerchief, heavy overcoat and rubber boots, she looked more like she'd come outside to transport dangerous goods. It was a little early for her to be turning over the rose garden. I guessed that her reason for being outside was the same as mine: to be near Dad in case it became necessary to offer support.

Both Eric and my father worked quietly, burdened by their separate thoughts. Now and again I noticed Eric frown. I knew he was thinking of Malcolm. He was running through all he knew and trying to make sense of the last few days. Since Malcolm's confession he had become more and more withdrawn, and I'd noticed he also stayed closer to home.

Funny how he could be so focused on what he was thinking yet still manage to harass me. He had already told me to make sure I didn't leave the bark and smaller branches behind because they made good kindling. I'd thanked him for the tip. But now he was telling me how much more efficient my work would be if I carried four logs in my arms in a bundle rather than swinging two at a time.

He was just lucky I felt sorry for him about Malcolm. Otherwise I would have had a lot more to say. “You know,” I said, “you're beginning to sound more like Mom every day.”

“I heard that,” Mom shouted across the lane.

How could she have heard it? The sound of the chain saw was cutting in and out, and her head was all bound up in that kerchief. She looked as airtight as an astronaut.

Halley thought our work was great fun, cutting down trees and chopping them up. It was even more fun digging in the freshly turned earth, prodding her nose into smells that had been buried for months. My mother turned her back for only a minute. When she turned around, our formerly white dog was brown from head to tail. Mom chased her out of the garden.

Halley came barreling across the lane toward the land bridge that would take her to the opposite side of the pond. She was desperate to get over there—the geese were out after their long winter in the barn and that's where they were nesting. Halley would have loved nothing more than to plow through the long grass and underbrush and flush them out. I headed her off by throwing a small branch. She galloped to the edge of the pond where it landed, but instead of retrieving the branch she was distracted by a smell. She pawed and tugged at something stuck in the mud. I didn't pay much attention until her persistence made me look back. My heart jumped as I suddenly remembered the glove my uncle had found. What if Halley uncovered a real piece of evidence? The thought of stumbling over something foul and bloody was never out of my mind as I walked the fields and lanes of our farm.


Dad and Eric looked up. I had not meant to sound so panicked.

“Halley,” I repeated. “Come here, girl.”

Wagging her tail, she struggled to haul what looked like a long piece of wood toward me. It was not until she was a few feet away that I recognized it as a swollen paddle, another victim of Carl's reckless game, which had spent the winter beneath the ice.

A car turned off the main road into the lane. Detective Mather's Chevrolet. When he reached us, he pulled to the shoulder and parked. After getting out of the car, he walked over to the toppled tree where we had gathered. He studied the chain saw in Dad's hand, the raw stump, and finally the long
arch of trees lining the lane. I couldn't help thinking how he was analyzing the crime scene: the violent mode of murder, the gruesome state of the victim who had never stood a chance, and all the potential victims he had to save.

Dad explained why the elm trees had to come down.

“What a shame,” he said.

“Yes,” said Dad. “It certainly is.”

“An awful shame,” the detective repeated as we wondered why he was there. He coughed, then sniffed a little. He appeared to be getting a cold. No doubt his resistance to all the little bugs and bacteria humans are susceptible to was down, what with greater evils plaguing his mind. Mom immediately dragged a wad of Kleenex from the pocket of her overcoat. Trust Mom. Never leave the house without a pound of Kleenex, you never know what you might have to mop up. Detective Mather thanked her, sniffed again and wiped his nose. “I have news I thought Eric would want to hear.”

Eric lay his saw aside and drew closer to where the detective stood. I dropped my armful of wood in the trailer and listened too.

Malcolm would be going home soon. They could not hold him for Katie's murder; they did not believe he had anything to do with it and he wouldn't be charged. He was, however, very ill. The doctors had diagnosed him with schizophrenia. This explained his bizarre and often paranoid behavior. He had not been taking an inordinate amount of drugs at all.

This news was a huge relief to us. Not that we had been convinced Malcolm had done it, but that he had been cleared. Eric was particularly glad to hear it, although it was not good news that Malcolm was so sick.

“But why did he say he did it?” Eric's voice had a rough edge to it, not unlike the chain saw. It struck me that he was beginning to wear out too.

“We believe he saw the van,” Detective Mather answered. “He saw Katie get into it. This coincides with what Lewis Gillespie has also confirmed. What we don't know is why, or exactly where Malcolm was standing at the time she was picked up. We suspect he was walking home from Jimmy's house. His description of the van is not very good and it leads us to believe he only saw it from the back. Perhaps he was half a block away. Regardless of where he was, he didn't think anything of seeing her get into the van until the body was found. When he remembered, it frightened him. You have to understand that with his illness his thinking was disjointed. With talk of a murderer, and knowing what he had seen, the doctors feel he probably began to believe he was more involved than he really was. He projected himself as the driver of the van. After a while he believed that if he himself picked Katie up, he must have killed her as well.”

Mom leaned her shovel against a tree and pulled off her gardening gloves. “Oh, poor Malcolm. What an awful thing for him to go through. I hope they can help him.”

Detective Mather agreed that it had been difficult for Malcolm. The doctors had told his family that Malcolm had no doubt been suffering with the illness for some time. On his own, he had managed to develop ways to cope with the routine of his daily life. His recollections of the night Katie was murdered, however, probably stressed his coping ability much further than he could handle and sent him wildly out of control. But there were medications and they were now monitoring Malcolm, trying to get him stabilized. Eric was relieved to hear this.

“If this is true,” he asked, “why did Mr. Gillespie say he saw Malcolm driving the van?”

To this question, Detective Mather shrugged. “He's retracted that statement. He now says he couldn't be sure it was Malcolm after all.”

“Man, Mr. Gillespie is nuts.”

Neither the detective or Dad disagreed.

“But Katie was not a risk taker. It had to be someone she knew,” my mother persisted. “Otherwise she would not have got in the van.”

Detective Mather nodded. “It's beginning to look that way.” He then turned to me. “Emma, are you frightened?”

I didn't answer his question, although in light of the fact that he would even ask it, the answer would have been a resounding yes. Instead I told him what I thought about what he had just told us. “I know he didn't do it, but I think Mr. Gillespie is trying to hide something.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because he keeps changing his story to suit the situation. People who do that are usually trying to cover something.”

Detective Mather told me it was funny, but he'd been thinking the very same thing.

After the detective left and Eric was piling wood in my arms, I asked him if he knew anybody who owned a dark van.

“Dad. Mr. Wright, the basketball coach. Frasers have one they carry chicken pens in. Maury. Mr. Blane. Pretty well anybody who has a business where they have to haul stuff around.”

“You didn't say anybody who could have killed her.”

“I don't remember that being part of your question.”

“Do you know anybody who owns a dark van that could have killed Katie?”

“No.” He piled a fourth piece of wood in my arms.

“But you are glad it wasn't Malcolm aren't you?”

“Yeah, of course I'm glad it wasn't Malcolm.”

“So how come you're not smiling?”

“Look, I never did believe it was Malcolm. I've known him nearly all my life. But there were a lot of other guys who hung around the Hippie House last summer. Some of them I didn't know at all.”

I knew this was a possibility that weighed heavily on Eric's mind. I thought about it as I sat at my sewing machine that afternoon.

Sunlight filled my room as a new crop of houseflies, already congregating in my dormer window, competed loudly with the machine. I was sewing a short-waisted baby blue corduroy jacket for spring, and it was going well. I enjoyed working with cotton; it always did what you told it to do, and when you ironed the darts and seams they stayed in place.

An advantage of my sewing going well was that I could forget about what I was doing as I was doing it. This allowed me to concentrate on the things that actually needed thinking about in my life. It's funny how your brain works, one thought touching off another, sometimes one you haven't thought about in years.

It began with my memories of who had been through the Hippie House, and the puzzle of why Katie would have opened the door and climbed into the van. Mom was right; Katie wasn't a risk taker. The idea that she would just drive off with some stranger, late at night, when she was on her way home, made no sense at all. There were certain things all girls just naturally knew.

The thought took me back many years to two little girls, one approximately a year and a half older than the other one. As I topstitched a pocket on the jacket, I saw these two little girls carrying their Barbie doll lunch boxes on their way home from school. The smaller girl, about six, wore a well-worn lime green coat with big navy buttons that was a size too big for her. She loved it despite this because it had once belonged to her cousin, who she admired very much.

It was fall; the maple leaves were crisp beneath their saddle shoes and their hands were turning red without gloves. The older girl stopped and rubbed the younger girl's hands between her own when she complained they were cold. She gave her a Chiclet from her pocket and told her it wouldn't be long.

“Your mom's picking us up in front of the post office, Emma. It's only one more block. Come on.”

The little girl followed her cousin, but “another block” could mean just about any distance when you're that small. All she knew was that she was cold and tired of walking. The two girls came to a crosswalk, where they stopped to let a car turn. The car turned the corner slowly while they waited, but instead of continuing down the street it rolled to a stop. The driver, a man, leaned over the seat and rolled down the window on the side where the two girls were standing. At first he didn't say anything, he just looked at them; his eyes ran down their hair, their skirts and their shoes. The older girl didn't say anything but grabbed the hand of the smaller girl and held it like she would never let it go.

“Do you girls want a ride home?” the man in the car asked.

He seemed a nice enough man. The younger girl thought he must be poor. His car was old and dirty, and his face was rough, covered in whiskers. She was also aware that all the fathers she knew worked at that time of day, so she decided the man must not have a job. If he was poor, she didn't want to hurt his feelings and say no. Besides, it was so cold, and it would be nice to have a ride to the post office. In one way she was hoping her cousin would say yes. But at the same time, even at her young age, something made her wonder why a man she didn't even know would want to give her a ride home. This thought was magnified by the fact that her cousin was gripping her hand hard.

Her cousin didn't answer the man. Instead she darted around behind the trunk of the car, pulling the little girl with her. She ran across the street and down the sidewalk toward the post office without stopping, tugging the little girl so she almost fell. The little girl ran with her. She could feel the panic and she now knew there was something very wrong.

She was glad when she spotted her mother's car parked ahead on the side of the road. When they reached it, the older girl stopped. She let the little one climb in first and sit next to her mother. Once she was in, the older girl sat next to her and closed the door. There were no seat belts to buckle. They pulled away from the curb. The younger girl was happy to be warm and close to her mother. She had already forgotten about the man in the car, and when her mother asked, she chatted about her teacher and what she had done at school. The older girl was quiet and let her chatter. She looked out the window and never mentioned the man who had offered to drive them home.

When I told this story to Megan in 1971, she smiled a little and told me what she had been thinking as the man sat there looking at us. In the split second before she decided to run, she'd had to make some decisions fast. She was going to hit him again and again with her lunch box while she told me to run. She was going to slam his hand in the door if he tried to reach out and grab us. If he had managed to get us into the car somehow, she was going to distract him and just lean on the horn so the whole world would come running. All this had gone through her mind while I was thinking that he must be poor.

BOOK: Hippie House
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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