‘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.
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.’
‘Why is that?’
Billings broke off and darted up on his elbows, staring across the room. ‘What’s that?’ he barked. His eyes had narrowed to black slots.
‘The closet,’ Dr Harper said. ‘Where I hang my coat and leave my overshoes.’
‘Open it. I want to see.’
Dr Harper got up wordlessly, crossed the room, and opened the closet. Inside, a tan raincoat hung on one of four or five hangers. Beneath that was a pair of shiny goloshes. The New York Times had been carefully tucked into one of them. That was all.
‘All right?’ Dr Harper said.
‘All right.’ Billings removed the props of his elbows and returned to his previous position.
‘You were saying,’ Dr Harper said as he went back to his chair, ‘that if the murder of your three children could be proved, all your troubles would be over. Why is that?’
‘I’d go to jail,’ Billings said immediately. ‘For life. And you can see into all the rooms in a jail. All the rooms.’ He smiled at nothing.
‘How were your children murdered?’
‘Don’t try to jerk it out of me!’
Billings twitched around and stared balefully at Harper.
‘I’ll tell you, don’t worry. I’m not one of your freaks strutting around and pretending to be Napoleon or explaining that I got hooked on heroin because my mother didn’t love me. I know you won’t believe me. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Just to tell will be enough.’
‘All right.’ Dr Harper got out his pipe.
‘I married Rita in 1965 – I was twenty-one and she was eighteen. She was pregnant. That was Denny.’ His lips twisted in a rubbery, frightening grin that was gone in a wink. ‘I had to leave college and get a job, but I didn’t mind. I loved both of them. We were very happy.
‘Rita got pregnant just a little while after Denny was born, and Shirl came along in December of 1966. Andy came in the summer of 1969, and Denny was already dead by then. Andy was an accident. That’s what Rita said. She said sometimes that birth-control stuff doesn’t work. I think that it was more than an accident. Children tie a man down, you know. Women like that, especially when the man is brighter than they. Don’t you find that’s true?’
Harper grunted non-commitally.
‘It doesn’t matter, though. I loved him anyway.