Prologue: Liza’s Nightmare Prologue LIZA’S NIGHTMARE
“Close your eyes and count to four,” he whispered. I felt his breath on my cheek. The barrel of the gun was hard and cold against my forehead.
I counted, and when I opened my eyes, he was gone.
I sat up quickly in bed, gasping, my body soaked with sweat.
What the hell was that?
It was pitch-dark in the room—not even a sliver of the moon to offer some light.
Damn. Another nightmare.
I’d been having them for almost two years, during which they had become more and more violent and vivid, and in each I was hunted by an anonymous man with a knife or a gun. I would struggle to recognize him, but he kept his face turned away from me. Then, just as he’d find my hiding place, I’d wake with my heart pounding and adrenaline coursing through my legs until they ached.
But this nightmare was different. In this dream, I was a young girl again, probably about nine or ten and in my summer pajamas walking down a long hotel hallway. Suddenly the elusive man blocked my path, backed me up against the wall, and pointed a gun at my head. I looked up at him and I finally saw his face. It was a man I hadn’t seen since I was a child in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Tony had been hired as a handyman to fix torn screens and leaky faucets in the seaside motel where my mother worked summers as a housekeeper. Everybody thought Tony was great, especially me. He was part of the revolving door of so-called babysitters my mother corralled to look after me and my younger sister, Louisa. Mom was notorious for being able to find a babysitter faster than she could say the word. She’d stop people in the supermarket or the post office or at the gas pump and ask, “Do you babysit?” Mostly the person would just stare at her, wondering why a mother would hire a random stranger to look after her children with less care than she would a plumber or a car mechanic. But sometimes they said sure. Tony was one of those, and he turned out to be one of the good ones. In fact, he was one of the few kind and gentle adults in my life during those turbulent years. But then in 1969, when I was ten years old, Tony disappeared. I didn’t know why; I just knew he was gone.
So why was Tony Costa now in my dreams, holding a gun to my head and smiling with teeth better suited to a wolf? What I remembered about him was all good; in fact, Tony was a nice guy who never yelled, never hit, never made me feel small and ugly and unwanted. I had been afraid of my mother but never of Tony. So when he suddenly appeared, threatening and frightening in the dream, it confounded me.
With nowhere else to turn, I did something I learned long ago not to—I asked Mom for help. I invited her to dinner, and when she arrived at Tim’s and my house, she was already teetering as she climbed the front porch. She was seventy by then, and everywhere she went, she carried a plastic sixteen-ounce water bottle of gin in her purse.
“Those were some wild days,” she said, seated at my counter and swirling the ice around in her snifter. She was clearly enjoying the memory of those summers on Cape Cod when she was a pretty divorcée, barely thirty years old, spending most of her free time closing down the various bars and dance clubs with her own revolving door of suitors. She took a long pull on her gin and settled back into her chair while I put the last of the seasoning in the soup simmering on the stove.
“Did something happen to me back then that you’re not telling me?” I said, suddenly wondering if it had.
“What do you mean, happen to you?”
“With Tony Costa.”
“Tony Costa? Why are you still thinking about him?”
“I wasn’t until I had a nightmare about him.”
“Oh, Christ, you and your dreams,” she said, snort-laughing as she took a sip of her drink.
“Well, this one was pretty horrible. But I don’t get it. He was always so nice to me,” I said. “What do you remember about him?”
She was quiet for a moment too long, and I stopped stirring and waited. She was just staring into the bottom of her glass. Mom rarely paused to contemplate her words, so I watched, curious as to what was going to come out of her mouth.
“Well,” she said, watching the gin swirl around the glass. “I remember he turned out to be a serial killer.” She said it calmly, as if she were reading the weather report.
I felt sick. I had always had several disjointed memories about murders that occurred in Provincetown during the years we lived there, but no one ever told me who had committed them. The bits and pieces I remembered involved hideous crimes—shallow graves and hearts being carved out of bodies and teeth marks on corpses.
I suddenly had an image, as clear as the pot of soup on the stove in front of me, of my two little tan feet up on the dashboard of the Royal Coachman Motel’s utility truck. Sand was stuck between my toes, and there were flecks of old red polish on my big toenails. I loved how tan my feet would get during the long, shoeless summer, and with them poised on the dash in front of me, I would turn them this way and that, admiring their smooth brown skin. I was never pretty like my mother, but, I thought, at least I had her pretty feet. Driving the motel’s truck, always, was Tony Costa.
I shook my head to clear the image and turned back to Mom.
“A serial killer? Tony, the babysitter?”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” she said, “don’t be so dramatic. He wasn’t your babysitter.” Her eyes narrowed in emphasis. “He was the handyman.”
I felt as if someone had sucker punched me in the gut.
“Handyman at the motel…,” I said, my words trailing off as I envisioned its long hallway and recognized it from the nightmare.
“But Louisa and I went all over the Cape with him,” I sputtered. “He took us on his errands and out to the dump and out to the Truro woods. Tony was the Cape Cod Vampire? Our Tony? A serial killer?” My words were tumbling out of me.
“Yeah, so what?” she said, again reaching for her gin. “He didn’t kill you, did he?”