ROOM WITH A VIEW
By Bruce Harris
The meeting concluded. “A swizzle stick and a matchbook. Damn!” Ted said, audible to no one except himself.
Chet Handler startled him. The attorney had placed a hand on Ted’s shoulder. “Is there anything I can do for you at this point, Ted?”
Ted covered Chet’s hand with his own and looked up. “You can call Tina and let her know. No, never mind. This has to come from me. I owe our relationship, our family that much. It’s bittersweet Chet. I’ve looked forward to this day for, oh hell, you know. I haven’t spoken to Tina in a long time. Oh Jesus, why do I have to put her through this again? Why us? Why Steven?” Ted lowered his head and buried his face in his hands. His shoulders spasmodically jerked. Tears and mucus pooled together on the table. Chet Handler grabbed his chocolate brown leather briefcase and began walking away. “Stop. Wait. I’d like for you to be here when I call Tina,” said Ted. “Emotional support.”
On a blustery Saturday morning a jogger just off a narrow dirt running-trail discovered the first in a series of parental nightmares, Steven Boyd’s body. The boy had gone missing and despite a frantic search, no one had a clue as to his whereabouts. Authorities determined the boy had been strangled elsewhere, his body dumped in the secluded wooded area. Steven Boyd never reached his seventh birthday. News of his death almost came as a relief to the family. They had partial closure. But there were no suspects, few if any clues, and the thought that their son’s murderer walked the streets became too much for Ted and Tina Boyd to bear. The horror and shock took its toll on their marriage. After constant mutual consoling, the stress became overbearing. Tina insisted the couple go for counseling. Ted refused. Each became withdrawn. Communication ceased between the two. Their only conversations were accusatory in nature. Ted blamed Tina for allowing Steven to stay out past four o’clock in the afternoon. “It gets dark early now!” he’d scream, followed immediately by guilt and shame. Tina shot back with, “If you had spent more time with him on weekends like any normal father, Steven would still be with us today!”
Ted forced himself to think about more pleasant times. A smile temporarily dammed the tear/mucus mixture flow. Steven was conceived during Ted and Tina’s honeymoon. The two were giddy. They had little money but were determined to get away and have fun. They drove a ratty Ford from Maine to coastal North Carolina. Along the way, they spent the night at Carl’s Cabins, a dump of a motel near Atlantic City. The couple spent the night in Cabin One. Ted remembered the broken copper “1” nailed to the door. Only the bottom half of the digit remained. He joked at the time to Tina that since they stayed in “Room Number Half,” they should pay half price! She countered, saying they should leave a half star review of the place. He said they should use only half the bed. She wondered out loud if the restaurant provided room service, because she wanted to order half a sandwich. He looked out a grimy window and proclaimed, “Look, half a view!” She followed with, “I’m in the mood for oysters on the half shell! I hear they make you randy.” They giggled. The couple did two things in room number half, made love and slept. Prior to departing, the couple breakfasted in the small combination bar/restaurant attached to the ten-cabin complex. Tina wanted a Bloody Mary, but Ted forbid it. “Who knows, maybe you’re already pregnant!” he joked with pride. The two settled on pancakes and bacon and hit the road. The week in Duck, North Carolina flew by. Ted and Tina did what any happily married couple did. They rarely left their room. When they did, they’d walk hand-in-hand along the beach, stopping frequently to hug, kiss, laugh and breathe in life. Steven arrived nine months later. Ted and Tina weren’t ready to be parents, but they did the best they could. Steven grew to be a healthy, normal child, good in school, sociable, respectful, everything a parent would want for their own child. A boy and a family with a future, but the tragedy destroyed three lives. Never a religious man, Ted asked God for one favor, that police find Steven’s killer during his lifetime. The meeting was over. The Lord delivered.
Ted wiped tears and dried his nose with a handkerchief. He stood, turned toward his attorney, Chet Handler. “I guess the other parents will find out now as well. Who tells them? Will it be Detective Wright?”
Attorneys, like doctors are trained to remain detached from their clients and patients respectively. Chet Handler shared a mantra with fictional detective Joe Friday. “Just the facts.” The cold hard facts, that’s all that mattered. Build a case based on facts and let the chips fall where they may. In this instance, Chet couldn’t help feel empathy toward his client. He too had a son, Chet Jr.. His boy tragically died in a high school football accident. Different circumstances from Ted Boyd’s experience, but the macabre end results the same.
“No,” answered Handler. “Wright will contact authorities in the other locales and each will tell the impacted families. Not that there is any good way to communicate what he just discovered but it’s best to deliver this kind of information in person.”
The other parents and impacted families to which Ted and Chet referred were primarily scattered across the east coast, with two exceptions. The Murphy family lived in Minnesota. Their eldest daughter, Elyse was found dead less than ten miles from the Canadian border. Strangle marks visible on her neck. The other exception was the Wards from a suburb of Seattle. The couple enjoyed crisscrossing the United States by rail and car. Stacey and Jack Ward’s only daughter Melissa went off to school one fall morning but never returned home. A police dog found her body buried under a pile of leaves less than a mile from the school. She too had been strangled to death.
Over a span of several years four other children were found strangled, their bodies callously tossed to the earth. They hailed from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and New Hampshire. No one suspected a connection between the murders. They were geographically too spread out and there seemed to be no common link among the victims or the victims’ families.
An out of the blue phone call from Lisa and Harold Thibaut to Ted Boyd began the chain of events that eventually led to the arrest of the killer. Stephanie Thibaut was the youngest victim. The Thibauts were out for a rare night of dinner and a movie. The babysitter, a 13-year old who lived next door to the Thibaut family, had run home for just a moment to retrieve a book. When she returned, Stephanie was gone. Her body was found later that evening, a strangulation victim. “Mr. Boyd, my name is Harold Thibaut. You don’t know me. Perhaps my name is familiar to you?”
Ted thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. What can I do for you Mr. Thibaut?”
“Please, call me Harold. You see…well…I’ve been in the news…Never mind…I’m not sure how to say this, but my wife Lisa and I would like to meet with you and speak to you if it’s okay. You see, we live in New Hampshire and we’re not too far from Maine and we’d be willing to meet with you near your home. It’s personal.”
Reluctantly, “What’s this all about Harold?”
The three sat down for seafood dinner outside of Portland. Ted listened to the Thibaut’s horrific tale about their daughter. They were forgiving people, placing no blame on the babysitter. They had done some research and discovered a number of other children around the country, murdered, the common thread being strangulation. Lisa and Harold hoped that by talking to Ted, perhaps they’d unearth something the officials had overlooked. It was a painful topic, but for some reason Ted found it therapeutic to commiserate with others who shared the same loss and desperation.
At the end of the meal, the three stood up from the table. “Well, I wish we had met under different circumstances Ted. But, we tried. You know what they say, nothing ventured nothing gained. Goodnight, sir. We wish you well.” He extended a hand and the two shook. Ted stared as Harold Thibaut pulled a small green plastic stick from his shirt pocket and stuck it in his mouth.
“What’s that? Is that a swizzle stick?” asked Ted.
“What’s left of it. It’s half a swizzle stick. Snapped in half a while back.”
Lisa Thibaut laughed and Harold blushed. “Isn’t it disgusting! He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it any more. It’s become a habit. One of these days he’ll either choke on it or I’ll throw that old thing into the garbage where it belongs,” said Lisa.
Ted smiled. “Gee, I haven’t seen a swizzle stick in years. Where did you get that one?”
Harold Thibaut pulled the fragment from his mouth and examined it like a fine jewelry piece. “Oh my, years ago. It was an old bar at some crummy motel down in New Jersey. Look, if you look closely you can still read part of the name, Carl’s Cab...”
The salmon Ted had just eaten began swimming upstream from his stomach. He felt faint, turned white.
“Are you okay? Asked Lisa.
Ted steadied himself by holding onto the back of his chair. “Carl’s Cabins?”
“Yes, that was it. Why?” asked Harold.
It suddenly felt as if the temperature in the restaurant had been turned up twenty degrees. “You stayed at Carl’s Cabins? Near Atlantic City?”
“Yes,” said Harold, “We stopped and stayed there one night on our way down to Florida. We had dinner and drinks in the restaurant there. I took the swizzle stick as a souvenir. This was before Stephanie was born. The food wasn’t very good and the drinks were worse. Do you know the place?”
“This may be nothing. Surely, it can’t mean anything. But, do you happen to remember which cabin you stayed in that night at Carl’s?”
The Thibauts looked at each other. Lisa spoke. “The first one. Number one.”
“Oh my God.”
“What’s wrong Ted?” asked Harold. “Do you need a doctor? You are as pale as this tablecloth.”
“I’m going to ask you two a personal question. Please, don’t think I’m crude or out of line, but did you two make love that night in cabin one?”
The couple squeezed each other. They didn’t have to say anything. Their physical response answered the question. “One more question, please. How long after your night at Carl’s Cabins was Stephanie born?”
“These are irregular questions Ted. We just met.”
Lisa blurted out, “I gave birth nine months later. How is this important?”
“Come with me, please. Follow me to my house. It’s a twenty-minute drive.”
The Thibauts did as requested. They were seated on the living room couch when Ted returned from the garage holding a plastic bag filled with matchbooks. He dumped the contents onto a marble table. “It’s here somewhere, I know it is.” Lisa and Harold remained silent. “Ha! Here!” Ted held up a forest green matchbook the same shade of green as Harold’s swizzle stick. Emblazoned on the matchbook cover in script, “Carl’s Cabins.” Mr. and Mrs. Thibaut stared. It was their turn to lose color.
“I knew I still had it. You see, Tina and I…um…my ex…stayed at Carl’s Cabins too. It was our honeymoon. We spent the night in cabin one. It had a broken number “1” on the door.”
“Yes!” shouted Lisa and Harold in unison.
“Tina and I made love in that cabin as well. Our Steven was born nine months later.” He stopped for a second before continuing. “I took a glass ashtray and this book of matches from that cabin. I dropped the ashtray the first week back home from our honeymoon and it shattered all over the floor. At least we got to try out our new vacuum cleaner at the time.” He smiled. “I kept the matches. You can see I take them from anywhere I can find them. Not too many places offer them anymore. There has to be a connection between Stephanie’s death and Steven’s and Carl’s Cabins. Let’s contact Detective Wright. He worked on Steven’s case.”
* * *
The meeting with Tina, initially uncomfortable became more natural as Ted explained everything. “Detective Wright corroborated what the Thibauts and I surmised. The parents of all the murdered children had stayed in cabin number one at Carl’s Cabins. Carl Anderson, the Carl of Carl’s Cabins and his wife were arrested. They didn’t put up a fight and apparently cooperated with the police.”
“All because the Andersons couldn’t have a child of their own?”
“That’s about it, Tina. Carl channeled his inner Norman Bates and spied on couples who stayed in that first cabin through a tiny hole he had drilled that led into the bedroom.”
“That gives me the creeps,” said Tina. “What a creep. A murderous, demented creep. My skin slithers just thinking about that repulsive reptile.”
“Jealousy, an old motive. Apparently, Anderson researched all of the couples that he observed making love in cabin number one. He took notes, documenting children born nine months after their parents stay at Carl’s. After all, he had all of the guests’ names and addresses. He figured, rightly or wrongly, they must have been conceived under his watch in his cabin. Carl exhibited patience. He waited years to pick his spots. Mrs. Anderson was complicit.”
“If they wanted children so badly, why didn’t they just adopt?”
“Who knows? Who knows what drives people to such extremes. We don’t have Steven and we don’t have each other, but we have one thing.”
Before getting into his car, Ted rotated his head back, forward, right, and left to loosen his neck muscles. He hoped Carl Anderson and his wife each received more than half a life sentence in prison.
Bruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type.
Several of his short stories have appeared in omdb! including “Murder Aboard the Number Eight Bus” (June, 2018), “50,000 Witnesses to Murder” (October, 2015), “Where’s Olive?” (March, 2015), “Time to Think” (October, 2014), “Heads or Tails?” (July, 2014), and “Written Out” (June, 2012).
His story “Carried Away” won the 2017 September/October Mysterious Photograph contest in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
Copyright © 2018 Bruce Harris. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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