Jump to content

My Babysitter, the Serial Killer

Recommended Posts


I heard about Tony Costa weeks before I met him. I was seven that summer of 1966, when Mom got the job at the Royal Coachman and the three of us shared a single room on the first floor near the office. Louisa and I did our best to stay out of her hair, and whenever I could, I’d tag along behind Cecelia as she made her rounds through the rooms. If she wasn’t humming some church hymn, she was talking about “my Tony.”

“When my Tony gets back from his trip, I’ll have him come over and meet you.” “My Tony is a good man.” “I raised my Tony by myself after his father died in the war.” She didn’t say what war, but I figured it was a long time ago and far away.

Cecelia talked about her Tony in a sort of low mumble, like a lobster boat idling at the pier, while she folded towels from the dryer or tucked hospital corners on the beds. I was happy to be out of my mother’s reach, and happy to help Cecelia where I could—handing her little squares of soap for the dishes on the bathroom counters or gathering up the dirty linens from where guests had thrown them on the floor. She always thanked me with a smile or pat on the arm or even a hug. It was the hugs that I waited for most. She’d take me in her arms and hold me there as if she had nowhere else to go and nothing to do, as if she loved me. I’d seen Mom give Louisa a hug or two like that, but I’d never gotten one.

One day, as Cecelia and I were moving between rooms, a man drove up to the motel in a beat-up Oldsmobile. One of the many things Grampa Georgie had drilled into me was how to recognize the make of a car, and every time I got it right, I felt something close to pride and wished he were there to notice. I was standing by the linen cart with an armful of towels and stared as the man got out of the car and then smiled in my direction. He was tall and suntanned, with thick dark hair and straight white teeth. I was confused. I didn’t know why a stranger would smile at me, but then he said, “Hi, Mother,” and I realized Cecelia was right beside me. She stopped emptying towels from a large laundry bag and looked toward him. A look of worry momentarily flooded her face. Then, she gave her head a little shake and rushed past me, her arms open.

“Tony!” she said, throwing her arms around the man and kissing him on the cheek.

I hadn’t seen many mothers throw their arms around their kids and kiss them, so I watched, my mouth open at the spectacle. But then I saw the man grimace and sort of shrink as he pushed Cecelia away. He reached up to wipe his cheek where her lipstick had left a red smear.

“I told you I don’t like lipstick,” he said.

“I like to look good for work,” Cecelia said quietly.

She no longer seemed happy to see him. I wondered what had happened.

“You’re back so soon. I thought you might find a job out there for a few months.”

“I told you when I called from the road that things didn’t work out and I decided to come back.”

“But everything went okay, yes? No problems?” Cecelia said.

“Everything went fine, but I didn’t end up taking the girls all the way to California,” Tony said. “I left them in Pennsylvania instead, that’s all.” And before Cecelia could ask why, he volunteered, “They got bored with the ride, so I dropped them outside Philly. Where they wanted. It’s where they wanted,” he said again. “So here I am.”

She seemed to think about that for a minute, then gave a little sniff. “Well, Vinnie has been taking very good care of me with you away,” she said, giving the bosom of her yellow sweater a little flick-flick-flick with her fingers, as if brushing off lint.

Tony laughed, but the laugh wasn’t very nice. “Yeah, I’m sure he did,” Tony said.

Finally, Tony looked over Cecelia’s shoulder and saw me standing there.

“And who’s this?” he said. He smiled for the first time since getting out of the car, and I realized this Tony had a nice face.

Cecelia turned and also smiled. “Ah! This is Liza. My boss’s girl and my little helper,” she said, beckoning me over. “Liza, come say hello to my Tony.”

I dropped my armload of towels onto the housekeeping cart and walked over, feeling my face burning with the attention both she and Tony focused on me. Not knowing what else to do, I put out my hand. With a little chuckle, Tony squatted down and took off his sunglasses. His eyes were brown like mine, and when he smiled, they smiled too. I watched my entire hand disappear into his large, tanned fingers.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Liza. I hope to see you around, okay?” All I was capable of was a nod into the front of my shirt.

“Okay, okay, enough of this,” Cecelia said. “Liza and I have work to do.”

Tony let go of my hand and stood up. When he did, I finally glanced up at him. He was looking toward the main door of the motel.

“Did you ask if there’s any work around here for me?” he said. “I gotta find a job.”

“Yes, I talked to Mrs. Becker about you. She runs the place most days.

She’s expecting you.” Cecelia pointed toward the office.

Without another word, he strode off.

“It’s good to have you back, Tony,” Cecelia called after him. He didn’t turn around.

As she and I walked back toward the linen closet, she shook her head gently.

“Ah, my Tony,” she said.


From THE BABYSITTER by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan. Copyright © 2021 by Marathon Mediaworks, Inc. and Jennifer Jordan. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

View the full article

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



WTF is Wrong With Stephen King?

  • Create New...