'I came to you because I want to tell my story,' the man on Dr Harper's couch was saying. The man was Lester Billings from Waterbury, Connecticut.
According to the history taken from Nurse Vickers, he was twenty-‐‑eight, employed by an industrial firm in New York, divorced, and the father of three children. All deceased.
'I can't go to a priest because I'm not a Catholic. I can't go to a lawyer because I haven't done anything to consult a lawyer about. All I did was kill my kids.
One at a time. Killed them all.'
Dr Harper turned on the tape recorder.
Billings lay straight as a yardstick on the couch, not giving it an inch of himself. His feet protruded stiffly over the end.
Picture of a man enduring necessary humiliation. His hands were folded corpselike on his chest. His face was carefully set.. He looked at the plain white composition ceiling as if seeing scenes and pictures played out there.
'Do you mean you actually killed them, or -‐‑'
'No.' Impatient flick of the hand. 'But I was responsible. Denny in 1967. Shirl in 1971. And Andy this year. I want to tell you about it.'
Dr Harper said nothing. He thought that Billings looked haggard and old. His hair was thinning, his complexion sallow.
His eyes held all the miserable secrets of whisky. 'They were murdered, see? Only no one believes that. If they would, things would be all right.'
'So me back-‐‑country fuckhead with a stethoscope and a black bag full of Junior Mints and a sheepskin from some cow college. Crib death, he called it! You ever hear such a pile of yellow manure? The kid was three years old!'
'Crib death is most common during the first year,' Harper said carefully, 'but that diagnosis has gone on death certificates for children up to age five for want of a better -‐‑'
Bulishit!' Billings spat out violently. Harper relit his pipe.
We moved Shirl into Denny's old room a month after the funeral. Rita fought it tooth and nail, but I had the last word.
It hurt me, of course it did. Jesus, I loved having the kid in with us. But you can't get overprotective. You make a kid a cripple that way. When I was a kid my mom used to take me to the beach and then scream herself hoarse. "Don't go out so far!
Don't go there! It's got an undertow! You only ate an hour ago! Don't go over your head!" Even to watch out for sharks, before God.
So what happens? I can't even go near the water now. It's the truth. I get the cramps if I go near a beach. Rita got me to take her and the kids to Savin Rock once when Denny was alive.
I got sick as a dog. I know, see? You can't overprotect kids. And you can't coddle yourself either. Life goes on. Shirl went right into Denny's crib. We sent the old mattress to the dump, though. I didn't want my girl to get any germs.
'So a year goes by. And one night when I'm putting Shirl into her crib she starts to yowl and scream and cry. "Boogeyman, Daddy, boogeyman, boogeyman!"
'That threw a jump into me. It was just like Denny. And I started to remember about that closet door, open just a crack when we found him. I wanted to take her into our room for the night.'
'No.' Billings regarded his hands and his face twitched.
'How could I go to Rita and admit I was wrong? I had to be strong. She was always such a jellyfish. . . look how easy she went to bed with me when we weren't married.'
Harper said, 'On the other hand, look how easily you went to bed with her.'
Billings froze in the act of rearranging his hands and slowly turned his head to look at Harper. 'Are you trying to be a wise guy?'
'No, indeed,' Harper said.
'Then let me tell it my way,' Billings snapped. 'I came here to get this off my chest.
To tell my story. I'm not going to talk about my sex life, if that's what you expect. Rita and I had a very normal sex life, with none of that dirty stuff. I know it gives some people a charge to talk about that, but I'm not one of them.'
'Okay,' Harper said.
'Okay,' Billings echoed with uneasy arrogance. He seemed to have lost the thread of his thought, and his eyes wandered uneasily to the closet door, which was firmly shut.
'Would you like that open?' Harper asked.
'No!' Billings said quickly. He gave a nervous little laugh. 'What do I want to look at your overshoes for?
'The boogeyman got her, too,' Billings said. He brushed at his forehead, as if sketching memories. 'A month later. But something happened before that. I heard a noise in there one night. And then she screamed.
I opened the door real quick -‐‑ the hall light was on -‐‑ and. . . she was sitting up in the crib crying and. . . something moved. Back in the shadows, by the closet.