(A novel by Susan Overturf)
After my visit to Eileen Fuller, I didn’t know where to turn. I saw little point in calling my nephew to tell him about what had transpired, and Miss Hattie sensed my indecision. As January turned into February, visits from Catherine became routine. I could expect to see her once or twice a week, usually in the evening. She always appeared when I was working in my study. She never stayed long, but her eyes always looked sad and she often beckoned me to follow. If I made any attempt to move closer to her, however, she would simply drift away and disappear. I no more understood what I was seeing than Columbus’s sailors did when they spotted land after days at sea. Catherine had just become a part of my apartment. I had no fear of her, but I didn’t know how to help her. This troubled me and, in that respect, Catherine’s ghost truly haunted me.
An unsettling event in early February convinced me that I should try again. In hindsight, it seemed odd that it happened at all, since I had done nothing about the case for several weeks and, to anyone who might have been watching me, it might well have appeared that I had given up asking questions. Despite that, however, I came home one day to find a note slipped under my door. It was folded in half and, since I assumed that it was something from the strata council, I placed it on the dining room table and didn’t even look at it until later in the day. When I finally unfolded it, I discovered that it was a handwritten note with a cryptic warning. In bold capital letters it said: “STAY AWAY. THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.”
As I read the note, I felt my insides tighten, and I swallowed slowly. I walked down the hall to the front door and made sure that the bolt and chain were secure; I also checked all of my windows. I paced back and forth in my living room, reading and re-reading the note. This is either a mistake and was slipped under the wrong door, or it’s about Catherine Fuller. Still feeling uncomfortable in my apartment, I unbolted my front door and stepped next door to Mark’s, tapping lightly.
Mark arrived quickly. “Dorthea, what a pleasant surprise.” His smiled disappeared. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
I handed the note to Mark and he read it. He frowned, “How did you get this?”
“It was under my door when I came home just now.”
“My God! Any idea who sent it?”
“Not a clue. It’s ordinary paper, nondescript handwriting. I’m not an expert on handwriting, but I don’t recognize it.”
Mark put his hand on my shoulder. He looked out into the hallway and then said, “Come in, Dorthea.”
I stepped inside Mark’s apartment. “Have you got a client here?” I whispered.
“Yes, but don’t worry. They’re waiting for some colour to set in.” He handed the note back to me. “What are you going to do about this? What do you think it’s about?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I assume it’s about my questions about Catherine’s death. If it is, then it means that I’m on to something.”
Mark raised his eyebrows. “Creepy!” He looked back down the hallway towards his living room/salon, apparently expecting his client to approach, but no one came. “Dorthea, you’d better stop this. It could get dangerous.”
“But that’s the crazy thing! I haven’t asked any questions for several weeks. After I saw Catherine’s mother, I figured I was getting no where.”
Mark raised his eyebrows and gasped, placing his hand on his chest. “You went to see her mother?”
“Yes. Didn’t I tell you that?”
“Sorry,” I mumbled. I did talk to Mark quite a bit, but I tended to confide in Miss Hattie. It was easy to forget what I had told to whom. “Mark, would you check my apartment for me?”
“Someone might be in there.”
“I doubt it, Dorthea. The note was probably slipped under the door. But I’ll check, of course.” He stepped around me, opened his door, crossed the hall, and went into my apartment. I followed him to the hall but remained there, already feeling foolish. Mark returned in less than five minutes. “All clear, Dorthea.”
“What are you going to do?”
I shook my head. “I‘m not sure, but I think I’ll go see my nephew. This note tells me that I either know something that mattered about Catherine’s death, or I was getting too close to knowing too much. It feels good to know that I might be on the right path, but I can’t say I’m happy to realize a killer might be trying to get me to go away!”
Mark nodded his head. “It’s indeed creepy!“ He looked at his watch and said, “I’d best get back to my client, Dorthea.” Mark opened his door. “You keep me informed. Lock your doors. Call on me if you need me. And, let me know what your nephew says.”
I nodded and went back into my own apartment. I returned to the living room, sat down in my chair, and stared again at the note. If a student had written an assignment in all capital letters, I would have returned it and insisted that it be rewritten. In e-mail correspondence, an all-capital message means the writer is shouting. I felt sure that the writer of this message was probably shouting at me. My nephew had warned me that I might be dealing with “a killer who wants to keep a very ugly secret.” I was being watched, apparently; this person knew where I lived. They knew of my visits to David and Eileen Fuller, perhaps even my conversations with Mark and Miss Hattie. They were able to get into the building to put this note under my door. Even more scary: They might live in the building.
The last time I had been to see my nephew, he had told me that, unless we got an actual confession from a killer or a viable witness who saw what happened, the case was never going to be re-opened. The note wasn’t exactly a “reliable witness,” but it certainly proved that I was stepping on someone’s toes, and I suspected that Jeff would want to know why, assuming that we could figure out the “who” of the note first. I picked up the phone and called the police department, asked for my nephew, and fortunately got through to him right away. When I told him I had new information about the case, he invited me to come right away.
Forty minutes later, I was in his office sitting on that same old squeaky typing chair, telling him about my visits with both David Fuller last November, and his wife, Eileen, a few weeks before in January. “In essence,” I summed up, “I learned nothing. David Fuller is an arrogant and angry man, and he did not like any suggestion that he or his wife had been involved with his daughter’s death. Eileen Fuller is a frightened and lonely woman; I’m not sure she’s ever gotten over her daughter’s death, and she’s never had another child. If they have a secret — and I think they might — I don’t know that either of them will ever tell me anything.”
Jeff listened intently to my story. “You’re probably right, Aunt Dorthea,” he said. “But I think you’ve done all that you can do. And, like I told you before, it’s a bit dangerous, what you’re doing. I think it’s best if you just let this go now.”
I frowned, somewhat disappointed. I wanted new ideas and a fresh start. I pulled the note out of my purse and passed it to him. “I found this under my door this morning,” I said.
Jeff took a quick look at the note and exploded. “Aunt Dorthea!” he shouted. “This is a threat! You must stop looking into this! It’s getting way too dangerous!”
I never have liked anyone shouting at me. “Now, Jeff,” I said, “don’t overreact. I know that it might be a little bit dangerous, but don’t you think it proves that I’m on to something?”
Jeff paused, tapped his fingers on his desk, and shook his head. “Yes, of course it does. No doubt it does.” He took a moment to take a deep breath. “But it also proves that someone might harm you before you find out too much. His serious-looking eyes revealed his obvious concern for me, and I was momentarily moved by his concern. But then his voice took on an officious tone: “I think you’d better let me handle this from now on, Aunt Dorthea. I’ll give this note to our forensics lab. I doubt they’ll get anything from it, but we should save it as evidence, just in case.” He placed the note on his desk and, even though he and I had both handled it, he slipped it into a clear envelope. On the outside, he wrote with a felt pen: “HARDING. Please check for prints. Two known prints can be used for elimination purposes.” Then he looked at me again and said, “We’re going to need your fingerprints to eliminate you as a suspect from the note-writer.”
I nodded. “Fine. Where do I go? And, by the way, my neighbour touched it, too.”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “OK. I’ll take note of that. We’ll take care of the fingerprints in a minute.” Jeff leaned forward in his chair and put his hands on the desk. “Aunt Dorthea, please. It’s time to stop this.”
I had no desire to argue with Jeff, or to see him agitated. “All right, Jeff, fine. I won’t go see either of the Fullers again.” Then I added: “But I still want to do something.”
“Like what?” Jeff asked suspiciously.
“I’d like to go to talk to Catherine’s teacher; she might remember something or just tell me more about the family.”
To me, this seemed like a perfectly safe thing to do, but Jeff said, “I’m sure that was done when Catherine died, Aunt Dorthea.”
“Of course it was, but I need to do this for me. I keep thinking of that little girl. Someone has to care about her, and the note tells me that there’s something suspicious going on here.” My determined words only made my nephew shake his head. I managed to end the debate by promising Jeff that I would take no chances, and I would regularly keep in touch with him. Before leaving, he took me to another area of the police building and I was fingerprinted. Jeff and I parted on good terms, but his last words were, “Be careful.” I didn’t need to be told that.
I took the bus home, and the first thing I did was phone Lord Roberts Elementary School at the corner of Bidwell and Pendrell, and speak to the school secretary. I asked if I could see the principal the next day, and an appointment was arranged. I spent the evening reading Byron and Keats, and turned in early, making sure that my doors and windows were locked, though I didn’t have much concern about anyone getting in through my windows on the fifth floor. Still, I was a bit more nervous than usual, what with that cryptic note. As I lay in a state of half-consciousness, I thought I saw Catherine at the foot of my bed. If I wasn’t dreaming, it was the first time she had appeared in my bedroom rather than the study. She must be feeling more comfortable with me, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
Disclaimer: Let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.