Thursday, May 17, 2012

Short Story: "Renting Out The Guest Room"

This is that other story I was telling you about the other day. I didn't mean to write another new story. It just sort of happened. I didn't see how the story was going to go until I started writing it, so I was as surprised by the denouement as you (hopefully) will be. Here goes something. Hope you like it.


We've been trying to get rid of this place for years. It's too small, there's no yard, and the neighbors are annoying (and you can hear them through the walls). We've even put it up for sale a few times, but there haven't been any takers. 

Finally, a few months ago we decided that we might as well take advantage of our situation, and make a little money from the place since we can't seem to get rid of it. With two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and there only being the two of us, we thought: Why not rent out the other bedroom and start saving a little money to go towards our retirement? Sure, it'd be a tad inconvenient with only the one shower, but we'd make it work. Especially if the renter was someone we knew – that wouldn't be so bad, right? Turns out it was the worst idea we ever had. 

My friend Gibby – not his real name, but no one ever calls him Lowell – needed a place to stay for a few months while he was looking for a more permanent place. He wasn't interesting in buying our apartment, though we did try to sell him on it. 

Gibby was starting school in a couple of months and needed some time to get reacquainted with the city he once knew well. It's grown so much here in the years since he moved way, and Gibby said he could barely find his way around anymore. 

He found a decent job – not a great one, mind you – that paid well enough to afford the rent and stock our fridge with his food. Gibby didn't have a car, but there was a bus stop right down the road and he said he didn't mind taking the bus to work. 

All in all, a low-risk situation for us. Sure, we wouldn't have much privacy for the next couple of months, but it was only temporary. Plus, we'd have a little extra money in the bank when it was all said and done. Little did we know what Gibby liked to do in his spare time (and in our spare room, as it turns out). 

Early one Thursday evening, my wife and I saw flashing red and blue lights illuminating the night sky just outside our patio. I peeked out the back door window and saw two officers approaching. One of them knocked on the door a half-second before I opened it. 

Without preamble, the taller of the two officers stated, "Good evening. We're looking for a Lowell Gibson who lives at this address." 

"He does live here," I said, "But he's at work right now. He doesn't usually get home till around 11:30. Can I ask what this is all about?" 

The shorter officer piped in at this point. "We need to ask him a few questions about some girls that have gone missing." 

My wife, who'd remained on the couch, let out a gasp, and I stifled one of my own. "Gibby?" I exclaimed. "I'm sorry, Officer, but I think you've got the wrong guy. Gibby – uh, Lowell – is harmless. He wouldn't hurt a fly." 

"That's what they said about Norman Bates, too, isn't it?" replied the taller officer. 

"Norman who?" I inquired. 

"Bates. From Psycho," said the shorter officer, whose name badge read ironically – "Norman". "The movie, you know?" 

I nodded that I understood, then quickly shook my head confusedly. "Wait a second. You guys really think that Gibby had something to do with some missing girls? Really?" 

My wife walked up behind me and put her arm around my waist; I could feel her fingers quivering just slightly. 

"Let's just say we have some questions for him," said the taller officer, whose name, according to his badge, was "Kellum". These guys talked like a bad episode of Law And Order, but they seemed otherwise legit.

"Well, come in if you'd like," I invited them. "But I told you, Gibby – ah, Lowell – is not here." 

"Do you mind if we take a look around?" asked Norman, doing just that with his eyes as he spoke. 

I quickly weighed the options. What's more important: My loyalty to my oldest and dearest friend, or my duty as a citizen to let these officers paw around in said friend's stuff? 

"Certainly," my wife interjected, making the decision for us both. 

"Um," I gulped, glaring at her briefly before returning my gaze to Officer Kellum. "Do you fellas have a – a whatchamacallit – a search warrant?" 

"No," replied Kellum, staring intently at me. "Do we need one?" 

Before I could answer him, my wife blurted out, "Certainly not!" I gave her another dirty look – which obviously did no good – and the officers began their search. 

For a second or two, they simply stood right where they were, observing I assumed, since they're trained to do that. Then – with Norman in the lead, followed closely by Kellum – they proceeded to the kitchen. The room seemed to hold little interest for either of them, so they headed up the stairs.

"Gibby's room is the one on the right!" my wife called up helpfully, and began ascending the stairs after them. I threw up my hands helplessly, and trailed behind her. 

We both stopped in the hallway at the top of the stairs, seeing that both bedroom doors hung wide open. Kellum was in our bedroom, taking a cursory glance at every surface, stooping briefly to peer under our bed, before proceeding to our bathroom and – by the sound of it – rifling through the closet. 

"I've got something!" shouted Officer Norman, a little too excitedly from our guest room – Gibby's room. My wife took a step in his direction, but Norman held up a hand of warning, saying, "Ma'am, it's best if you stay right where you are." Seriously, what was this, Dragnet 2012?

Kellum stomped through our hallway of bathrooms and popped his head inside the guest bedroom doorway. "What is it?" he asked. 

"What kinda necklace was that Popkin girl wearing when she was last seen?" 

Kellum shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. 

"I'll tell you what it was," Norman answered himself. "It was a charm necklace with her name on it. 'C-A-N-D-Y'. See it right here?" As Norman held up the necklace for all to see, my wife and I exchanged a horrified glance. 

"What's that on the 'D' there?" said Kellum and took a step forward to grab the necklace in his gloved hand. "Looks like blood to me." 

"That it does," replied Norman.

"Oh, no!" my wife cried, and buried her face in my chest. 

"There's lots more of 'em, too," said Norman, half-grinning, seemingly enjoying all of this a bit more than the rest of us. "Bracelets, rings, driver's licenses, a finger." 

"A finger?" I shouted, incredulously. "There's a finger in there?" 

"See for yourself." Norman extended a small keepsake box toward me, and I hesitantly looked inside just long enough to see a slender finger with a ring near the base of it. 

"I'm guessing he just wanted to keep the ring, but couldn't get it off, so he just hacked off the finger instead," said Norman, as calmly as though this were an everyday occurrence. If it is, I don't ever want to know. 

"I'm gonna call in forensics," said Kellum, and disappeared once more inside the bathroom. 

Norman set the box down on Gibby's bed, and approached us in the hallway. "Listen, folks, this place is now an active crime scene, and there's gonna be lots of people in and out the next couple of days. It might be best if you just spent two or three days in a hotel." 

"But –" my wife blurted.

"Ma'am, it's not a request," Norman interrupted. "You two gotta split. Pack only the clothes you need for a few days, and leave everything else as it is. We'll take care of everything else."

I furrowed my brow in confusion. I'd probably been doing so off and on since the officers had arrived. "This is crazy! You can't just kick us out of our house!" I shouted. 

"We can, and we are," replied Norman. "Now, forensics will be here any minute, so you two need to go ahead and clear out of here." 

I was certain that the attitude and bluster that these two officers – Norman in particular – had displayed was anything but according to procedure. But they had badges, and there was a probably-dead girl's necklace in a box in our guest bedroom, so we didn't have much room to complain. 

I still couldn't believe any of this was happening. Gibby, a kidnapper? A killer? None of this made sense. But we did as we were told, packed our things, gave our cell phone numbers to Officer Kellum, and left our apartment. 

Two weeks later (not two or three days, as Norman had incorrectly estimated) – after Gibby had been arrested and his room had been searched from top to bottom for evidence (and much had been found) – we were allowed to return home. 

The cops had left a mess, especially in the guest bedroom. We'd been questioned numerous times in the past two weeks and urged to tell the police anything we might have remembered seeing or hearing that was suspicious. There was nothing to tell – we were as flummoxed by all that had occurred as was the general public. 

As we would find out later, Gibby had never gotten a job since moving into our home. He had indeed been working at night, but not for money. Apparently, it had been for the thrill of killing. 

Gibby had murdered sixteen girls and young women in cold blood during the four weeks he had lived with us. Five of them had been killed in our guest bedroom while my wife and I were out to dinner or at church. 

He had done an exceptionally good job of covering his tracks. If it hadn't been for the "souvenirs" they'd found in his room, and the one body he hadn't hidden well enough which bore his DNA, he might never have been caught at all. Who knows how long my old friend might have continued killing? And if we'd ever found out, we might have been among his victims, too. 

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that our house is now up for sale again. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that no one's interested in buying it. Oh, there have been a few showings, mostly sickos who wanted to see where one of the worst serial killers in this state's history did his dirty deeds. Folks with morbid curiosity, but who had no real interest in living in a slaughter house. So we're stuck here once again, and probably forever. 

We've thought about burning the place down to collect on the insurance, but nobody would ever believe it was an accident. Plus, with it being an apartment building, it just wouldn't be right to destroy other people's homes as well as our own. 

We've fixed the place up quite nicely in the past couple of months. We even got a professional in to clean the carpets. If you didn't know better, you'd never suspect that anything so terrible ever happened here. But you do know better, and so does everyone else. So here we stay. 

You know what the ironic thing about all this is? Since he was such a good friend, I didn't make Gibby pay up front. Then he was arrested before the first month was up. So we didn't even get any rent money out of the deal.

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