First of all, I would like to thank Kacey for including this excerpt on her Read My Dang Book blog alongside many fantastic authors that I have no right to share space with. This excerpt doesn’t come from the beginning of I Plagiarized this Book From Myself but it is pretty close. I shared the first chapter with a class of writers during my Masters degree and it was well received. Even though it has gone through a number of edits by myself and World Castle Publishing between then and the final version, that first rough draft was considered “audacious” and said to have “plenty of scope for exploration”. Yet, when it was published and released, it was this third chapter that really seemed to grab readers. I hope that you will find it just as engaging as others have.
The living room was well furnished, but there was a distinct sense of loss. Perhaps it was the lack of familial photos, but before the parents even spoke, I knew what the issue was. Of course, I knew what the issue was before I even arrived at their home. It was all over the newspapers. A missing child turned up, traumatized, ten years later. I couldn’t imagine how it felt to be reunited with a missing child. In ten years, they’d likely already started the grieving process, believing their son was dead in a ditch somewhere. In some ways, a missing child was worse than a dead one. True, a dead child could never come back to you, but you could at least gain some amount of closure on the situation. A missing child created a constant state of flux.
The father, a heavyset man with a youthful face, sat on a hard wooden chair. I was opposite him, sitting awkwardly alone on their three-seater sofa with only a little glass coffee table to separate us. He wasn’t looking at me, thankfully; he was staring out the window, though his glassy gaze made it obvious he wasn’t looking at anything in particular. He was thinking, about what I didn’t know. Possibly he was considering how best to approach the issue. I was wondering the same myself.
That isn’t to say that I knew what they were about to ask of me. I couldn’t guess at that since the case was ten years old. Any trails were likely to be stone cold and, according to the news, the police were preparing to reopen the investigation anyway. What could they possibly expect me to do? Not that I could afford to deny hearing them out. I had bills to pay too.
The mother entered the room carrying a tray of tea cups, a plate of biscuits, a pot of tea, a little china bowl of sugar, and a jug of milk. The perfect hostess. To an outsider, it would have seemed that she was attending to a visiting acquaintance rather than interviewing a private investigator. She walked with poise and dignity, set the tray on the coffee table, then smoothed out her dress and sat beside her husband.
“Would you like some tea?” she offered.
I noted that three cups had already been prepared on the tray, so it felt rude to refuse. In any other circumstance, I’d have declined due to the abnormal diuretic effect tea tended to have on my urinary system. Few people I knew admitted that tea had any effect on the number of times they relieved themselves a day, but I shared an elevated reaction with my sister. Oddly enough, I didn’t notice any change when I drank coffee. Couldn’t be the caffeine then.
She poured a cup and asked my preference. Just milk for me, all the works for herself, and black for him. I sipped the tea to ease the tension. I didn’t want to be the one to start negotiations.
“I would like to introduce myself and my husband,” she said. “Though, I am quite aware that you probably know exactly who we are rather well.”
It seemed that, aside from hostess, she was also the designated speaker for the pair.
“For the sake of conversation, let’s say that I don’t.”
“Very well. This is my husband, Léandre François, License en Droit, and I am Aryana François, MPharm. We would like you, Mr. Mittelmark, to investigate the disappearance and reappearance of our son, Timothy.”
I made a mental note to translate License en Droit during my research.
“It was my understanding that the case was in the process of being reopened by the police. Is there something in particular that you would like me to research?”
“The police are useless,” the husband barked with such ferocious abruptness that I jolted a little and dribbled tea on my lap. Thankfully, no one noticed and I hid the mark by resting my other hand over the spot.
“What my husband means is simply that we do not believe they will uncover anything more than they could ten years ago. We appreciate their efforts, but we do not think they were as enthusiastic as they could have been.”
“With all due respect, Mrs. François, I don’t believe I can uncover anything new either. You have to understand, this case has been cold for ten years. In that time, memories will have faded, forensic evidence will have deteriorated, and there is nothing to suggest that the kidnapper is still alive.”
“We believe he is. We believe Timothy escaped from his kidnapper, but has blocked the memory from his mind due to trauma. But we are not vengeful people. We do not want the head of the kidnapper delivered to us on a silver platter. We only wish to know what happened to our precious boy during those ten years so that we may better understand how to begin the rehabilitation process.”
“While I appreciate that, I am quite literally at a lost as to how you expect me to reveal something that the police will not also be able to discover.”
“That is because there is one clue that the police are unwilling to consider.”
“And that is?”
“His night terrors, Mr. Mittelmark. His night terrors, we believe, hold the key to the event of his disappearance and what he has suffered since then.”
I shifted uncomfortably on the sofa and took another sip of the tea. It did little to mitigate the growing dryness in my mouth. They were asking me to do something that was completely outside my area of expertise. The majority of my cases involved doing background checks on the boyfriend of someone’s daughter, usually for the father, staking out a wife’s whereabouts or discovering the exact sin that a particular blackmailer was using against the guilty party. I dealt with common emotional problems. It was no trouble for me to admit that I took advantage of people’s insecurities, that was true, but it was easy to justify because those people would be insecure regardless of my participation.
But this couple was asking me for something very different. I was essentially tasked with deciphering their son’s dreams. It was far removed from my familiar territory of sitting outside seedy motels with binoculars, watching as someone’s wife welcomed a greasy garage hand into her room. It would require finesse and intellect. I consider myself a smart guy, by today’s standards at least, and I have a bit of class, but I was no Daniel. Dream interpretation was certainly no skill of mine.
“I’d probably agree with the police on that issue, Mrs. François,” I said. “I don’t think the night terrors are relevant.”
Maybe they were. Hell if I knew. I just didn’t want to do it.
Léandre François threw out his hand toward me. I flinched. My legs lifted slightly, I drew as far back into the sofa as I could go and sipped at the tea, hiding my face behind the cup. For a brief moment, it seemed he had taken offense. He was going to hit me. Then his hand dipped, lifted a pink wafer biscuit, and he sat back down. I swallowed my mouthful of tea in one loud gulp and exhaled. This interview was turning out to be more like torture.
“Ah, but Mr. Mittelmark, of all the private investigators that we’ve considered, you are the only one with an experience in this area,” she said.
“You’re referring to the Dunwich case.”
“Yes. We are well aware of your foray into the paranormal.”
The Dunwich case. It was the blip on an otherwise mundane record of investigations. Oh, it started out regular enough, though it was a bit more sensationalist than my usual cases. After six months, the police had been unable to find the murderer, so the family began paying various private investigators to search for the killer. I was one of them. I flew over to Dunwich, Suffolk in England immediately to begin my inquiry. The victim was Harriet Huxtable, daughter of Henry Huxtable, who was chairman of the parish council. Her mother had died when she was young. She had one sibling, an elder brother, but he lived in Australia with his wife and worked as an architect. He had flown over after the body had been found, and returned shortly after the funeral, though he assisted in paying for further investigation. It was proven that he was in a meeting during the dates of the murder; I made my own phone calls to verify this to eliminate him as a suspect.
Though the body had long since been removed by the time I and the other P.I.s arrived, the police report stated that she had been found at her mother’s grave. The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma. The murder weapon was never found, but the police suspected that the killer deposited the item off the coast and into the North Sea. That seemed likely. My own searches came up with nothing too. I drew the same conclusion as the police. The murder of Harriet was tied to the death of her mother.
Unfortunately, the mother couldn’t possibly have died in a less dramatic fashion. When Harriet was just ten, her mother developed breast cancer. According to interviews I conducted with family and friends in the small town, it came as quite as surprise apparently. She didn’t smoke and rarely drank alcohol. Henry, who had known her since their days at the University Campus Suffolk, said she’d never had anything to do with drugs after her younger brother became addicted to codeine. She had a perfect standard of health until the cancer hit, and doctors expected it to go into remission. She was dead within seven months.
The question then became, “how do you connect a healthy woman dying of cancer to the murder of her daughter?” and it was a question that the police had been completely unable to answer. I was only three weeks into my investigation when things started to get really weird. The ghost of Harriet Huxtable was seen walking from her mother’s grave to where the harbor had once been. Coastal erosion had done away with it years ago, but the ghost would walk to where it would have been and then seemed to flicker and disappear.
On the first night, all the private investigators, myself included, dismissed it as local folk nonsense. Most of the townspeople still talked of church bells being heard beneath the waves. We were trying to be serious about our analysis of the crime and didn’t want to indulge them in their tales, but then it happened again. And again. And it kept happening, every night.
A lot of the investigators left immediately. Admittedly, that was refreshing because we were no longer stepping all over each other. A couple of psychics showed up, and they were infinitely more annoying. One psychic said he had a direct link to the girl who revealed the murderer was a homeless drunk known only as Blake. This drunk apparently found Harriet praying at her mother’s grave and attempted to sexually assault the girl, who fought back, but in the struggle, she fell and hit her head against her mother’s tombstone. Blake had then fled, and in his drunken state, fell into the sea. The ghost always walked to the place where the body had been found. But the psychic was a fraud. Firstly, there was no evidence of blood on or damage to the tombstone; secondly, the autopsy showed no signs of a struggle or sexual trauma, and finally, the police had already combed parts of the sea nearest the town. They would have found the body, and even if they hadn’t, it would have washed up somewhere close by. There had been no reports of another dead body washing up anywhere. The town’s people found that particular psychic to be insensitive and tasteless, and they ran him out of town pretty quickly after that.
While other investigators began looking for possible suspects with connections to the occult, I maintained my vigilance with the connection to the mother. A couple of the investigators had begun to believe that the father was involved, but that road seemed like a dead end. There was no history of abuse on his part, and he was good terms with his daughter, or at the very least, as good as a father could be with his teenage daughter. No, it seemed that if there was any motive for murder, it had to lie with the mother. So I dug deeper than anyone else, and began chronicling the life of Ellen Huxtable, née Meadows.
Ellen Meadows was born in 1978 and died at the age of 42. She attended Middleton Community Primary School as a girl and Leiston Community High School as a teenager. She continued into further education at the University Campus Suffolk, where she studied psychology and sociology and met Henry Huxtable, who studied business management and psychology. They shared a psychology class and met during a partnering assignment. They dated for the three years of university and then married in the summer following their graduation, using a little of their student loans that they’d saved and some money provided by her father. Her family had always lived in Suffolk, but she hadn’t moved to Dunwich until after she married. It had been due to her that they had taken up residency in Dunwich because she had accepted a position in the town to work with the community and church members to build better communication networks within the neighborhood and the surrounding towns. Henry soon found himself on the parish council. Three years later, she gave birth to their son, and six years after that, she brought Harriet into the world. She was a peaceful and caring woman, and it saddened the whole village to hear how she passed. But there was one recurring name.
Eddie Thorpe attended Middleton Community Primary School. Eddie also attended Leiston Community High School. In both cases, he was in the same class as Ellen and, in fact, they had even dated for a month in high school. No one in Dunwich knew that because no one in Dunwich had known Ellen before she was married. But they knew Eddie Thorpe. He was the village grounds keeper.
I armed myself and confronted him. He told me the whole torrid story after I revealed that only I had made the connection. Though others had questioned him, it had only been to ask what he’d seen or heard on that night, but no one—not the police, the psychics, or the other private investigators—had made the connection to her past. He explained that he began work as an assistant grounds keeper after school because his grades hadn’t been good enough to allow him to continue on to further education, and after two years, the old grounds keeper, Mr. Whateley, passed away, and Eddie took over the full position. When Ellen arrived with her husband a year later, she didn’t recognize him for two years until he attended a friendship club at the church. She was aloof at first, he said, but slowly, she began to confide in him more and more. They would have long conversations in his hut at the far end of the village, where she would reveal that she hadn’t intended on settling down in Dunwich, or Henry had gotten her pregnant when she had wanted to wait another year before having kids.
A year after the birth of her son, Eddie claimed that he began an affair with Ellen that continued on and off for five years. It ended after the birth of Harriet, at which point Ellen cut off all contact with Eddie. I was never able to substantiate the claims that Eddie made. Statements from neighbors and her husband left me with the impression that she would not have had time to conduct an affair. She never missed a meeting and was never absent from home for long periods of time that weren’t accounted for. The only evidence I found that it happened was in Harriet. A DNA test came back positive for Eddie Thorpe’s paternity. He explained that he’d always suspected as much, but kept quiet out of respect for Ellen. Ten years after the birth of their daughter, Ellen died, but it would be another six years before Harriet would be murdered by her father. In a way, some of the other investigators were right. They were just looking for the wrong father. According to him, she had been digging in her mother’s past as part of a school project to create a family history. She’d found his name in the school records and connected the dots. Smart girl. Pity she died.
The police were right about the murder weapon, but that was about all they were right about. He’d been working on some fencing near the church, but it had gotten too dark to continue. Oh his way home, he stopped by Ellen’s grave to pay his respects. At the same time, Harriet snuck out of her house and confronted him. When he refused to divulge anything about his past with her mother, she threatened to tell her father. He panicked and got violent, clobbering her with the hammer, which he tossed into the sea afterwards.
The spirit had been nothing more than Eddie using an old projector, photos of Ellen that he kept in a shoebox under his bed, and a bunch of basic magic tricks that he learned from watching Breaking the Magician’s Code. It’d only been a trick to get rid of the private investigators. Then he began to cry. I called the police. He didn’t even try to escape while we waited. He just sat there and sobbed.
“That was a year ago, Mrs. François, and I’m afraid I don’t see the relevance of that case to this one,” I said. “The ghost was always going to have a practical explanation, but you can’t say the same for dreams. Some of it might be relevant, some of it might be complete red herrings, and it’s impossible to know which is which unless you go on a wild goose chase searching each and every possible symbol as a lead. If he remembers falling in his night terrors, do I take that to mean his kidnapper dropped him or just that he has a fear of letting go? It would be impossible to know which is which.”
“The Dunwich case is relevant because it highlights exactly why we specifically asked for you to take this case,” she said. “It proves that you go further and deeper into your cases than the average private investigator, and that you alone see clues that others might not. As for the night terrors, well, they seem far too vivid and linear for us to really believe that they are truly up for interpretation.”
I loathed admitting it, but they had piqued my interest. Moments ago, I’d have given anything to just leave, but now, I wanted to hear those night terrors for myself.
Writer and blogger, Boyd Jamison lives in the Northern Ireland countryside and holds a BA in English Literature and a MA in Creative writing. Aside from authoring I Plagiarized This Book From Myself, a mystery thriller, he spends his time watching television, reading and playing video games.