(A novel by Susan Overturf)
[“So have you come up with a theory as to what really happened?”]
Thanks to my nephew’s special pass for me, my visits to his office had become a piece of cake. I called ahead, of course, but I was able to walk directly to his office after going through the security check, and I now knew exactly which doors to go through and which hallways to follow. As I entered his cubicle office, he was seated at his desk, looking intently at some photographs, and he quickly slipped them into a folder.
“Aunt Dorthea,” he said, shuffling papers as he spoke. “It’s always nice to see you.”
“Does that have anything to do with me?” I asked, pointing to the folder on his desk where he had just placed the photographs.
“What?” Jeff asked, somewhat perplexed. Then, looking down at the edges of the photographs still sticking out of the folder, he said, “Oh, that. No, no. Nothing to do with you. Just some surveillance photographs on some guys we’re following.”
I was relieved. If Jeff were having me followed, I figured it would mean that I was in more danger than I thought. I didn’t know what my note-writer, phone-caller was trying to do, but I assumed he or she just wanted me to stay away from the case. Beyond that, I didn’t know if there was a plan. I thought it possible that David Fuller was behind the notes and the calls, but I felt he wanted to scare me away, not actually harm me. I also couldn’t be positive it was a man’s voice since it was muffled and brief. “Well, that’s a relief,” I said. “I thought maybe you were having me followed.”
Jeff laughed self-consciously. “Don’t be silly, Aunt Dorthea.”
It was funny how Jeff’s words didn’t seem to quite ring true to me. “Are you having me followed, Jeff?“ I asked. “I’m sure you would say it was for my own safety, but I want to know.”
Jeff reassured me once again that I was not being followed by the police. He changed the direction of the conversation (rather quickly, I thought) by asking: “Well, have you learned anything new, Aunt Dorthea?”
“Let’s see.” I paused. After so many conversations with Miss Hattie, Mark, and Jeff, I was looking track of what I said to whom. “I’m not sure what you don’t know and what you do. I’ve spoken to everyone who was directly involved in the case, except the doctor who pronounced the child’s death.“ I smiled. “And the drug dealer, of course.”
Jeff looked nervous about my suggestion that I hadn’t seen the drug dealer yet. No doubt he figured I’d be asking to do that next.
“After I saw you last time, I went to see Catherine’s principal and her teacher. They both remember her as a quiet, shy child and neither of them believe that Catherine had a fall that day. They insist that they never told the police about a fall, and they were both upset that they were never asked to testify at the inquest.”
“Hmmm,” Jeff mused. “That’s interesting. I think that supports the report here.”
“From the beginning, it would seem, the teachers and the mother disagreed about the fall. Yet no one seems to question that.”
Jeff leaned back in his chair. "Yes, I remember the mother’s story, and I also remember the teachers insisting otherwise. What do you think is going on here?"
“Eileen was insistent to me that Catherine had fallen at school, but the school officials had not told her about it. She said that Catherine told her about it when she got home from school. Eileen Fuller — to this day — still blames the school for her child’s death. If there is a different story, Eileen’s not revealing it.”
Jeff asked the obvious: “So have you come up with a theory as to what really happened?”
I looked down at my feet and then up at Jeff. “I’m not sure. I know that David Fuller had a temper. I know that his child always wore long-sleeved blouses, that she was shy and withdrawn. Eileen Fuller has admitted little to me, even saying that David has ‘been good’ to her and that she will never ‘change her story.’ Eileen admits that David was drug dealing and that he was in a turf war with another dealer in the area. She says that she was sometimes David’s mule and delivered the drugs to the junkies. She also says that she was followed by another drug dealer and his cronies. They once told David they could kill his wife or daughter very easily.”
“Interesting,” Jeff said. “Do you know who this drug dealer was?”
“Eileen only knew his nickname — Tats. Apparently he had a lot of tatoos. She thinks he probably lived in the West End, and probably near Royal Manor.”
“I might be able to find out something about him from the drug squad.” For the first time, Jeff sounded a bit excited, as though they might have a real lead that would go somewhere.
“But, Jeff, I’m not sure this is about drug dealing. I think it’s more likely this is about a dominating father and husband who went too far one night and killed his daughter.”
“You’re right, of course, that it could have been the father, but checking all the leads never hurts. Remember, Aunt Dorthea, that an investigation isn’t over until you have the culprit in custody. Until then, everyone is a suspect. Even Eileen. Does Eileen give you the slightest reason to believe that David did it?”
I shook my head. “No, of course she doesn’t. But I think if I keep talking to her, I can get her to tell me the truth.”
Jeff leaned back in his chair and sighed. “You have got precious little evidence here, Aunt Dorthea. If Eileen Fuller knows what happens, but never tells about it, you’ve got zip. As well, she can’t be forced to testify against her husband. We might be able to arrest him if he’s still abusing her, or get him for harassment of you, if he’s the one doing it, but they’re not big charges and they won’t stick long. He’ll be out of jail in no time and free to continue his life.”
I felt a moment of defeat. It seemed as though everyone was telling me that I’d never find the answers. And I was beginning to wonder if it was worth it anyway. Eileen certainly didn’t seem to care, and since they didn’t have other children, at least no other child was in danger. I looked at Jeff with some resignation. “I hate the thought of giving up, Jeff. There must be a way to get to the truth.”
“So you’re convinced that it’s David Fuller? Not another drug dealer?”
“I’d bet an entire month’s pension on it. This guy is just like my dad. And Eileen Fuller is just like my mother.”
Silence descended on our conversation. Jeff stared at me and swallowed. “Are you telling me that Grandpa beat up Grandma?”
For a brief moment I felt guilty that Jeff was learning about his grandparents in this way and from me, not his mother. My sister had obviously never told her son the family secrets. I had almost forgotten how secretive we had all been back in those days, but I had told my sons about their grandparents, so I had assumed that Mary had too. “I’m sorry, Jeff. I didn’t know that you didn’t know. Didn’t your mother ever tell you?”
“Of course not! Why would she?“ Jeff’s face turned red and he stood up, as though that might calm him down. “And I don’t believe it, anyway. How can you say such a thing?” He turned his back to me and rummaged through some papers on top of a filing cabinet, clearly trying to gain control of his emotions. He pulled open a drawer, thumbing through the files, but obviously not looking for anything.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I kept quiet for a moment while Jeff regained his composure. “Jeff,” I finally said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you, but it is true, no matter what you may believe. I have learned, though, that people have many sides to them. What you might have seen as a young kid when you went to visit your grandparents is probably 100% different than what I saw growing up with those same people as my parents. We’re not all-good and we’re not all-bad, but a mixture of many things.”
Jeff listened quietly. “I loved grandma’s pies,” he said, “and grandpa always threw a ball with me.”
“They always seemed loving and kind.”
“Are you sure that he hit her?” He turned around to look directly at me.
“Yes, I’m sure. And he hit me. And he hit your mother. And he hit your uncles, Peter and Jacob, and your Aunt Natalie. I’m sorry, Jeff. When he was drinking, he was a mean, mean man. He had a lot of demons left over from the war, I think. As he grew older, he did calm down a bit. And he didn’t drink as much.”
Jeff sat down again. “Damn,” he said. “Damn, damn, and damn.”
I remained silent while Jeff tried to absorb this information.
“I wonder why Mother never told me,” he said.
“Don’t blame your mother, Jeff. People react to this in many different ways. As children, we were told to keep it secret. Your grandmother didn’t want anyone to know about it because it would shame her. Your mother probably just thought it was best that you didn’t know. She just carried on the family secret.”
“I suppose.” Jeff shook his head again and then looked straight at me. “I believe you. At least I think I do. But it’s just such a shock.”
“I know.” I took a breath and hoped a change of subject would be possible. “Jeff, I’m going to go see Eileen Fuller again. If I can get her to talk, and she agrees to talk to a policeman, will you go and talk to her? She may feel safer if I tell her that the policeman is my nephew.”
Jeff nodded his head. “Of course, Aunt Dorthea. But I really doubt you’re going to get her to admit to anything. You just said that my own mother and grandmother kept that secret for years. And you really can’t be sure that David Fuller is behind this. There may be something here of which you are completely unaware.”
“True. But this is a start, and times are changing, Jeff. If I can convince Eileen that David is sick and needs help, she might agree to talk. Besides, Eileen needs to tell what happened for the sake of her daughter. I’m convinced she knows what really happened.”
I stood up and put on my jacket. I smiled at Jeff and told him not to worry. I would be fine. He seemed to doubt me, but I left after giving my nephew a hug. I figured that Jeff would spend the better part of the day thinking about his grandparents, and as I rode home on the bus I realized that I had not told him about the phone calls or the second note.
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.