This is a story that didn’t make it into You Could Make a Killing, but could have done…if you want to read more like this, you’ll find them in that collection – available in paperback, Kindle, or if you have Kindle Unlimited, as part of your free allowance.
I arrived five minutes before I was due. Five minutes seemed a good balance between enthusiasm and punctuality without straying into over-eagerness. Besides, I knew conversation could get awkward if there was too much face-to-face time with the clients. If it wasn’t getting every single detail of Junior’s life, wanted or not, it was a never-ending series of questions all apparently designed to outline how different being a college student twenty years ago was.
Five minutes early was about right.
I rang the bell and looked around the street as I waited – pleasant enough: upper middle class, new cars, well-maintained homes and gardens. If it wasn’t exactly white picket fences it was in the general neighbourhood, no pun intended.
I turned back to the door; about to give a second ring- was actually reaching out to press the bell again, when it opened.
The woman in front of me was in her mid-thirties, dressed smart casual and attractive- if slightly harried looking. She smiled and gestured me in while talking into a white cordless house phone. I smiled back, mouthed a silent ‘hello’ and crept past her, trying to avoid her effusive arm gestures as she gesticulated wildly to accentuate whatever it was she was saying on the phone.
She raised one finger into a ‘wait’ gesture, her eyebrows rising and her hand turning into a ‘talk talk’ type motion. I smiled back again; looked around the hallway and unwrapped my scarf, as she made a few polite, if slightly distracted noises, down the line, before finally saying she had to go as the sitter had arrived.
There was obviously one more question from the other end, because she repeated, “Yes, the sitter”.
“The baby sitter.” Slightly exasperated, as though speaking to someone who had never heard of the concept before. The person on the other end apparently started to say something else, but she cut them off with a terse “I have to go.” ending the call and placing the phone on the hallway table.
She took a deep breath with her back to me, before turning with a big, false smile, “I am so sorry; I just put Jamie down when my mother rang. That woman can talk forever. I swear if there was an Olympic event in gabbling she’d get the gold medal…You must be Christie, right?”
“Of course you are”, she laughed, “Who else would you be? Take your jacket off sweetheart; you can put it over there…” she gestured towards an expensive looking high backed chair that sat in the corner of the hallway.
I shrugged out of my coat and folded it onto the chair, along with my scarf, “You said you’d just put Jamie down, does that mean…”
She flapped a hand at me, “I know what you’re thinking- don’t worry about me putting her down now, it’s only an hour nap. We believe in The Adams Method.”
I shook my head, “I…”
“The Adams Method,” she continued, as if I hadn’t started to speak, “says to put them down every three hours and wake them after an hour. Or leave them if they don’t sleep. It encourages imagination…”
I started to think that if Mom was taking the Gold, her daughter would be a close Silver, but just nodded as if I were the biggest believer in The Adams Method the world had ever known.
She took my arm, pressing it against her large chest, as she linked arms with me and guided me further into the hallway, “You are just the cutest!” she smiled, and for a moment I thought she was going to pinch my cheek, “How old are you, honey?”
“18.” I said, hoping my physical movement back from the squeeze she was giving me wasn’t too obvious, “I’m a first year at Callum Tech, Mrs Carlson.”
She laughed and patted the arm linked in hers, “Call me Shelley, sweetie- Mrs Carlson is my mother…” She paused and thought about it for a second, “Actually that doesn’t really work, does it? My mother is Mrs Abbot. I guess it’s okay if you’re a guy. ‘Mrs. Carlson is my mother-in-law’ doesn’t have quite the same ring…”
I shrugged, nonplussed, and as we came into the front room she unlinked my arm and moved to the sofa, where a large glass beaded with droplets and with a large chunk of ice floating in the middle of a clear liquid sat on a coaster on the table next to it.
“Never mind”, she sighed, taking a drink from the tumbler, “But that is funny…”
I sat down opposite her on the second sofa, “The College said you needed someone for around four hours, is that right? I’m a little new- this is my first time…so not quite sure exactly how this whole thing works…”
‘Shelley not Mrs Carlson’ swallowed a mouthful of her drink, nodding in agreement, “Yes, our usual girl came down with something so it was a bit of a last minute thing…”, then she stopped, putting her drink down, and I wondered what was in the glass-clear liquid, a slice of lemon, but no hint of fizz to it. “Honey, are you saying this is your first babysitting job? I insisted we needed someone with experience…little Jamie can be a bit of a handful, and I insisted on someone who has some medical knowledge…just to be safe you understand…”
I held up my hands in a calming gesture, “No, Mrs Carls… Shelley, don’t worry- I have a lot of experience- my own family, volunteering at a shelter, summer camp, I’m fully trained in CPR. I just meant this is my first time with this agency. I’ve just started college here… I have references…”
Shelley shook her head, as I started to reach for the backpack at my feet.
“No, no, honey, don’t worry…if you’ve checked out through the agency I’m sure you’re fine. I just wanted to be sure…you can’t be too careful these days…”
I didn’t say anything, just nodded.
She picked her drink back up and stood, gesturing to me, as she moved to the door behind her, “Come on in to the second room, the ‘playroom’, I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse the mess- I was hoping to get the place in order before you arrived but…” she shrugged as if to say what was she supposed to do between looking after a child and getting interrupted by mother (and one or two distractions from Mr Smirnoff I was beginning to guess.)
I walked into a room of toddler carnage destruction- an impressive display with a Barbie Tower of Babel and associated accessories.
“How many children do you have?” I asked, turning to her, smiling. A joke normally helped at the outset.
She looked concerned, “Just one – Jamie. Did the agency not tell you that?”
I nodded, “Sorry, I was just kidding…”
She considered me uncertainly.
I ploughed on, grinning what I was sure was an inane grin, “Umm…Jamie is obviously a bundle of energy…”
She looked at me carefully for a moment longer, taking an extended sip from her drink before re-asserting in a slightly monotone voice, confirming for both of us, “Jamie is asleep now. She’s tuckered herself out.”
I looked around.
Clearly, she had.
“Do you have anything nice planned tonight?” I changed the subject, “Is it a special occasion?”
Shelley nodded, drinking again, “Yes, we’re making a night of it tonight- our third anniversary.”
“That sounds romantic.”
Shelley shrugged as if she wasn’t too sure.
“We’ve been a little short on romance around here recently…” she said after another drink.
I actually opened my mouth to reply, and realised I had absolutely no answer to that, and no desire to ask a question to clarify the words, so shut it again.
“You mind if I…?” Shelley asked, hitching her thumb upwards, “Tommy will be home anytime now, and I want to jump in the shower before him…”
I shrugged, “Of course. Is there anything I can do down here- tidy up anything?”
She looked slightly confused, as though, despite her earlier comment, she saw nothing out of place, “No, You just get yourself a drink honey- there’s juice in the kitchen, help yourself… I’ll be ten minutes max…”
“Do you want to show me where Jamie is, just in case she needs something while you’re in the shower?”
She paused, heading towards the stairs, looked back at me, “No honey, don’t worry, she’ll be fine. Just get yourself a drink…”
I walked through to the kitchen- the sink piled with plastic dishes, gummed up with sticky remnants of some sort of infant culinary efforts.
I opened the fridge, and took out the oversized bottle of fresh Orange Juice, pulled a glass from the third cupboard I tried, and opened the freezer drawer underneath to look for ice. What I found first was a litre bottle of Absolut Vodka, half full- not Mr Smirnoff then, but close enough. I pulled the bottle out, looked underneath, found the ice tray, popped three cubes into the glass and then, after a quick peek around the fridge door, poured a reasonable glug of vodka into the OJ and placed the bottle back where I’d found it.
I took the drink and sat at a medium-sized oak breakfast table, pushing a couple of plastic dishes aside to make a clear space for myself.
Just as I took my first mouthful, the back door opened, and a man walked in.
He was around 35, wearing a dark blue suit – what looked like a reasonably expensive but off-the-peg item, a light blue shirt, and dark blue tie, briefcase in hand. He was good looking for an older man, hair very slightly peppered grey, but stylishly cut.
He dropped his keys into a small bowl by the back door, looked up and stopped in his tracks, doing a double take as he saw me.
“Who are you?”
I started slightly at the brusqueness, “I’m Christie.”
He shrugged his shoulders, “Hello Christie. May I ask what you’re doing in my house?”
“I’m the…babysitter…?” I said, not sure why I turned it into half a question.
“The babysitter?” he repeated, and that was definitely a question.
“The babysitter” I repeated back – a definite statement, “Are you Tommy? Umm…Mr Carlson?”
The man blew out, pulling the chair opposite me free and sitting down, dropping his briefcase on the table, “I am Tommy. And Mr Carlson. I assume you’ve spoken to my wife, Christie?”
I nodded, looked down at the glass in front of me, suddenly aware of the vodka…I picked up the glass and drank it down in one, swallowing before speaking, “She’s upstairs, taking a shower. She said that Jamie’s asleep but didn’t need me to look in on her…”
His head dipped slightly and I found myself looking at the top of his head- silver tips, but no bald spot. He looked up and rubbed his hand across his face, as though thinking very hard. After a moment he dropped his hand and looked at me, “Did she show you the baby, Christie?”
I shook my head, “She said she’d just put her down…”
“She said to leave her sleeping for the time being”.
“She wanted to shower before you got home…”
He paused again, for what seemed like an unnatural amount of time and then stood and walked to the cupboard, took a glass out, turned to the fridge freezer and opened the lower door, pulling out the vodka bottle. He poured a substantial measure into the glass- twice the size I’d poured, knocked it back in one, and then poured another. He turned around and looked at me, “Let me show you something, Christie…”
He took a small mouthful from the glass, gestured for me to follow him, and walked into the room I’d just come from. As he entered he sighed, “Again.”
“Again?” I asked, “What do you mean, again?”
He looked around the room, taking in the carnage.
“I’m sorry Christie. This hasn’t happened for a while.”
“What hasn’t happened in a while, Mr Carlson?”
He sat down, rubbing his eyes, “Jamie died three years ago, Christie. For the longest time, Shelley couldn’t accept the fact. She would keep buying kid stuff, I’d move it out, she’d buy more. We had a lot of therapy, lots of doctors. She refused to accept the fact our little girl had gone. She kept talking about her in the present tense. Kept buying things. Kept…” he looked at me, “…hiring babysitters to look after her while we had ‘romantic nights out…’”
I stared at him.
He looked up at me, “Where are you from honey? I mean- where were you hired from for this job?”
“I…uh…the College.” I stammered, “The College agency.”
He nodded sadly, “Yeah. That figures. Most of the local agencies don’t accept her calls any more…I am so sorry you’ve been dragged into this…”
He stood up, loosening his tie, “You wait here for a minute, will you? I need to go and speak to Shelley…are you okay to wait for a moment?”
I nodded, numbly.
“…I realise this is awkward” he said quietly, in the direction his wife had a few minutes earlier, “but if you could just help me out here a moment…this can be difficult…”
I carried on nodding.
“Stay right where you are…I’ll be right back…don’t you move.”
He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him and I heard him walking upstairs, calling out to his wife.
I wished I had put a bigger shot of Vodka in the OJ…
I sat, listening to the clock tick on the mantelpiece, looking out of the window at nothing happening outside.
A minute went by, then two, then five.
And then the door started to open.
Slowly… but not the way an unweighted door swings open… it was opening a gradient at a time.
And then a toddler stumbled into the room, pushing the door open, almost losing her balance as inertia gave way and the door swung open and she tumbled into the room.
She screamed in response.
A gusty, hearty scream.
And then Mr Carlson was piling into the room, pointing at me and roaring with laughter, “Got you!”
And then not-Mrs. Carlson-Shelley, was running into the room, in a big terry towelling wrap round dressing ground, scooping up the shrieking toddler… and shouting at the belly laughing man, “What the hell have you done?”
She examined the child in her arms, as though for injury then glared at him, “Did you do it again?”
Mr Carlson was laughing so hard he could hardly answer, “Best yet…”
She looked at me, “I’m so sorry honey. He’s an asshole. With a really sick sense of humour…”
She looked at him, “This is the last babysitter outlet we have. Why do you do this? Do you want us to have zero social life?”
Mr Carlson tried to look contrite, like an overgrown schoolboy who’d been caught out, “I’m sorry hon…”
He looked at me, trying the same look, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I am an asshole…I was brought up in the whole campfire scary tales environment. A whole lot of them were babysitter stories…you know?”
I shook my head, wiping a stray tear I didn’t even know was there until I felt the wetness on my face.
Mr Carlson laughed again – negating his apology somewhat, while wiping his own tears away, “The phone call coming from inside the house, the killer giving a certain time when he’ll kill the children, the face in the window, the statue outside the house…?”
I looked at him.
Back to him.
“This is so wrong.” I said, my voice hitching, “I think I should leave.”
Shelley sat down next to me, hugging me with her spare arm, meaning she kind of pushed the toddler against me, forcing me to take her, “Oh, Christie, please. Please. Please. Please…”
I wondered how many times she’d say it if I didn’t say anything.
“I really don’t feel comfortable with this…”
And then we had a conversation- Shelley banishing her husband upstairs (him still giggling as he left the room). Shelley explaining how important this night was and pointing out again what an asshole her husband was.
The ‘asshole’ came back downstairs, in a changed outfit.
Shelley went upstairs to finish changing- apparently thinking her conversation had been enough to ensure I wasn’t going to leave. While she was up there the money for the evening went up from $50 to $100.
And then they were on their way, last kisses and snuggles for baby Jamie, apologies again, promises to be back by 11.
Of course, Mr Carlson was right.
There is a myriad of babysitter urban myths.
He mentioned the external threats- the ghouls, the threats on the innocent sitter and her charges.
But he didn’t mention the other side- the clichéd evil babysitter, out to do harm to the innocent babe. I’m sure Christie would have said that could never happen. But Christie met with an unfortunate accident when she was leaving the agency earlier this evening. The details of this job were all there in her bag.
I lied earlier – this wasn’t my first gig. I’ve done this three times now. Three times, in three different counties.
I’d intended just to rob the place and bail leaving the kid sleeping, but now…?
I look at the little brat sitting gurgling on the sofa next to me.
The boiling pot?
I wonder how sick Mr Carlson’s sense of humour really is…
For more stories like this, check out You Could Make a Killing or Basement Tales. Available now from Amazon.