(A novel by Susan Overturf)
["The change in Eileen from the previous two visits was palpable, and I desperately wanted to know the whole story."]
I decided not to call ahead, as it made more sense to take a bus directly out to Eileen’s home than go back to the West End first. It had started to rain heavily while I was inside the police station. Now, the rain pelted the outside of the bus while the windows inside fogged up. I could barely see my stop and thus went past it by a block. I stepped off the bus, the rain still coming down hard, opened my umbrella and slipped my hood over my head to cut the wind at my back. I followed my usual path to Eileen’s door.
The elderly gate man seemed skeptical of my surprise visit. “What are you doing here?” he asked ungraciously.
“I’d like to see Mrs. Fuller,” I shouted over the clatter of the rain hitting the pavement.
The gateman shook his head, as though he thought I had to be crazy arriving unannounced, and in the pouring rain at that. But he opened the gate and waved me inside. The young woman who opened the front door for me had much the same look as the gateman had given me, but she let me in, took my umbrella and coat, and showed me to the same red-and-white room where I had waited previously.
This time, however, I waited a long time, nearly forty-five minutes, and I heard Eileen’s arrival before I saw her. By the sound of the steps on the tile in the foyer, I could tell she was running. She rushed in the room, out of breath, and looking a bit dishevelled, a very different Eileen Fuller than the one I had seen before.
“Dorthea,” Eileen said breathlessly. “I’m so sorry you‘ve had to wait, but something has happened and I’m leaving. Now. Today.” She stared into my eyes, and I saw nothing but fear and panic.
“Leaving? What’s happened? Did David do something? Did he threaten you?” Even as I said the words, I knew I was asking too much at once, but the change in Eileen from the previous two visits was palpable, and I desperately wanted to know the whole story. This was an important change in Eileen’s normally docile behaviour, and I saw it as a good sign.
“I can’t tell you everything right now,” Eileen said. “But I must hurry. Come with me to my bedroom. I’m packing.”
“Of course, Eileen. Of course.”
Eileen turned, even before I had answered, and led the way. We went up a wide and winding staircase to the second floor, and down a long hall, passing numerous doors, all closed. Eileen turned into the final door at the end of the hall with me following quickly behind her.
I was immediately assaulted by a strong lavender and cinnamon aroma: Eileen had several candles burning. The room, apparently, was Eileen’s bedroom, and there was nothing here to suggest that David slept or lived here. In fact, it looked like a little girl’s room: a large canopied bed, white curtains and bedspread, dolls and teddy bears on numerous wall shelves. Two white bureaus with gold handles, all the drawers open and their contents spilling out. Several jewelry cases atop one of them, with jewelry spilling out of each. I wondered if Eileen had created this room as a memorial for her dead daughter and then had started using it herself, as though living in this bedroom would make her feel as though Catherine were still alive. The thought made me shiver.
A small bathroom adjoined the room, and Eileen went directly there. I could hear her picking up bottles of make-up and cream and apparently dumping them into a bag. On her bed was an open suitcase with numerous articles of clothing carelessly thrown in. Around the suitcase were large piles of other clothes which apparently Eileen had decided to not take with her.
“Eileen,” I called from the bedroom. “What on earth has happened?” But Eileen couldn’t hear me, so I went to the bathroom door and asked again.
Eileen, dumping more cosmetics into a bag that was already too full, said, “It’s been awful. I’ve finally had to decide what to do. I can’t stay here any more.”
As usual, Eileen was being vague and nondescript. I wanted a perfect picture. “Eileen, please, tell me exactly what has happened.”
Again Eileen panicked. “I have to hurry, Dorthea! He could come back any minute. I have to be gone when he gets here.”
I gave up at that point and figured I might learn more later. And, if there was a chance that David might arrive at any minute, I really didn’t want to be there when he did. “All right,” I said. “Then let me help. What can I do?”
“I have another suitcase in the bottom of one of my closets. See if you can find it.”
I turned and headed for the closets. There were two which, combined, were larger than most classrooms I’d ever taught in, and both were stuffed with clothes and shoes. Every inch of space below the clothes and on the shelves above were covered with boxes, shoes, hats, gloves, and scarves. I looked carefully, scanning each item, moving things around to see what was behind, but it still took me several minutes to find the suitcase. “I’ve got it!” I shouted as I came back out to the bedroom.
“Great. Thanks,” Eileen said, almost absent-mindedly. “Could you put those clothes in it?” She pointed to a pile of clothes near the edge of the bed.
I began to neatly fold the clothes into the suitcase while Eileen continued to randomly grab items, rejecting some by throwing them on the floor, accepting others by tossing them towards her suitcase. I could tell that not everything was going to fit in the suitcases, but Eileen’s choices seemed strange and disjointed as well. Instead of choosing practical clothes, like pants and blouses and sweaters, she was choosing cocktail dresses and fancy jewelry. “Wouldn’t it be better to take more practical clothes, Eileen? You won’t be going to many parties, will you?”
Eileen stopped and, for the first time, seemed to truly notice my presence. “Oh, you‘re so right, Dorthea. What was I thinking? Please, help me to take out the things I don’t need and put in the things I do.”
I began to do just that, but I tried to get Eileen talking again about what had happened. “Did David hurt you, Eileen?”
Well, now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. “What happened? Did you argue?”
“No, not really. David was just being David, as usual. He didn’t like how I had fried his egg. He likes the yoke completely cooked, and it wasn’t.”
“So if he does this a lot, why is this time different?”
Eileen stopped what she was doing and looked straight at Dorthea. “Because, this time, Dorthea, he said he could get rid of me, so that no one would know, just like what happened to Catherine.”
For an instant, Eileen and I were like statues in a tableau, but I broke the silence first. “You mean, he admitted that he had killed Catherine?”
“No. He admitted that he had covered up how Catherine had died.”
“I don’t understand, Eileen. What did you know about this before? What did David say this time to convince you that he knows more about Catherine’s death?”
Eileen’s emotions seemed flat. “There was something about his eyes, Dorthea. I could see it in his eyes.”
“Do you believe he killed your daughter?”
“I’m not sure. I can’t remember a lot of things about that day. But something happened that morning, and I don’t remember who was there. My mother sometimes came over to help me with Catherine. David was usually there, getting ready to leave for his classes. Sometimes an addict would drop by to get their fix. I know that Catherine fell that morning and hit her head hard on the floor. I can still hear the sound, all these years later. She was unconscious at first; I remember trying to wake her up. But she must have awakened, because I took her to school.”
“So what you have said all these years is partially right: she did fall and she hit her head. But it was at home, not at school. Was it an accident? Did she trip?”
“Yes,” Eileen said hesitantly. Seconds later she said, “No.” She looked at me and seemed lost and confused. “The truth is, Dorthea, I don’t know. I can’t remember. David took care of everything.” I got the sense that there was something else she wanted to tell me, but she was afraid. Then she said, “David told me to say that Catherine had fallen at school and never to tell anyone what had happened at home.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell? Even if you had told, it may have been an accident. If David did hit her, it’s unlikely that he would have gone to jail for a very long time. And there isn’t proof the fall is what caused Catherine’s death because an autopsy wasn’t performed. But are you even sure that David did anything, Eileen?”
Eileen fidgeted with her clothing. “At the time, he seemed so sad,” she said, ignoring my question. “He loved Catherine in his own way, I think. Catherine was dead, so what point was there in making David or anyone else go to jail? At least,” she said, “that’s what I thought then.”
“And you don’t believe that now?” I prodded.
“I’m not sure. I think David always saw Catherine as an impediment to his future. He didn’t want her around. When I first told him I was pregnant, he was very upset. He didn’t want marriage and a family to change his career ambitions. To this day, I’m not sure why he married me and why we had the baby. At first, he wanted me to get an abortion.”
I understood. My mother had considered putting me up for adoption. Not every child is wanted. “How did you talk him out of the abortion?” I asked.
“It was more his mother who did that. His parents didn’t want him to do it. He saw marrying me as an advantage since I would be able to give him money. But he never really wanted Catherine around. And now he sees me as another impediment, just as he did Catherine. This morning, after complaining about the fried egg, he told me that he has fallen in love with another woman and he wants me to go away, too, like Catherine. But he doesn’t want a divorce — that would not do. He wants me dead, like Catherine.”
“Is that what he said to you?” I asked.
“In so many words, yes. I think he’s going to kill me, and I have to get out of here before he does.” Eileen began to lock up the suitcases and place them at the door.
I looked around to see if there was anything important that we’d forgotten. “I think you’ve probably got enough to manage,” I said. “Let’s get moving. Where are you going?”
“I haven’t a clue, but not to my parents’ house.”
I was amazed at Eileen’s inability to think more than five minutes ahead of herself. Here she was, ready to leave, but she had no idea where, and I thought it odd that she didn’t see her parents’ home as a safe haven. I had not learned a whole lot more than I knew before, except that Eileen apparently witnessed Catherine’s abuse but could not remember what had happened. Perhaps, if she were somewhere safe, her memory would return.
“I have a nephew with the Vancouver Police department,” I said. “Maybe he could help us.”
Eileen picked up two suitcases and headed out of the room. “I don’t think I want to talk to the police, Dorthea. There must be some place I could go.”
We said little as we headed down the staircase with the suitcases, but at the bottom of the stairs, I stopped and tried to get Eileen to listen to me. I spoke like a mother to a daughter, or a teacher to a student. “Eileen,” I said, “you need to plan ahead. Is there a women’s shelter somewhere nearby?“
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have a friend who would take you in?“
“No. No one.”
“Do you have enough money to check into a motel?“
“I have a credit card.”
Eileen stood there, looking so lost that I couldn’t help but feel she would need my guidance. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that anything she was telling me was the truth. She seemed confused, and her story a bit made-up. “Listen, Eileen, no matter what you do, I think I should let my nephew know what’s happening. He’s a good man, and the police need to know that you’ve been threatened. Perhaps we can get a restraining order on David.”
Eileen seemed confused by the options. She started to cry. “I don’t know what to do!“ she yelled at me. “I just need to get out of here!”
“All right, Eileen. Calm down. I’ll take care of it.” I walked over to the phone which was on a small table in the foyer, and I called my nephew. I told him, quickly, what had happened, and I asked how he might help. He gave me the addresses and phone numbers of two women’s shelters and told me that Eileen would have to come to the police station to request a restraining order on David. Meanwhile, he said, he could talk to the unsolved-cases squad and give them a heads-up on the situation. They could re-open Catherine’s case and question David at his office. I would have preferred that David Fuller be arrested, but I knew that Eileen’s story was too vague and simply not enough for an arrest; it was still unclear exactly what had happened except that David had threatened Eileen, and, considering Eileen’s mental state, I wondered if even that had happened. I thanked Jeff for his help and told him that I would keep in touch.
As I put down the phone, I said to Eileen, “Well, I have some help for you. My nephew is going to talk to some other police officers about re-opening Catherine’s case file. He gave me the addresses of some places you could go. And he says you can go down to the police station to file a report to get a restraining order against David.”
Eileen stood still, staring at me, with absolutely no emotion apparent whatsoever. “Re-open the case? Why would they do that?”
“Because you said that David (or, I suppose, someone else) might have killed Catherine, Eileen, even if it was an accident.”
“I never said that!” She seemed angry and hurt. Her vulnerability was once again evident. She had lost her courage. Either that, or her story kept changing because she still had not told me the entire truth, or she simply didn’t remember.
“It’s all right, Eileen. We’ll figure this all out later. Right now, let’s get you somewhere safe. Somewhere where David won’t find you. Are you willing to try one of these shelters?”
Eileen took a moment to answer. “I guess so,” she said, without any emotion at all.
“I’m going to call one and see if they’ll take you in, and then I’ll call a taxi,” I said. “Just wait.”
The first women’s shelter I called said that Catherine could come immediately. I called for a taxi and then picked up the suitcases, pointed to the others for Eileen to grab, and we walked out to the front of the house and waited at the driveway. Fortunately, the rain had stopped. Eileen remained silent and sad, as though she had already used up all her strength and energy in the decision to leave. I was certain that, if I had not arrived when I did, Eileen would have eventually lost her nerve and put her things away.
The taxi drove up the driveway and Eileen and I got in while the driver put the bags in the trunk. I gave the driver the women’s shelter address, and we rode there in silence. A middle-aged kindly lady greeted us at the door of the shelter, and it took only a short time to get Eileen settled into a small room, discuss her situation, and tell Eileen I would be back later.
When I got home, I was exhausted. I felt relieved that Eileen was no longer where David could find her, but I worried about her sanity. Now that she was outside his influence, perhaps she would be able to remember exactly what had happened to her daughter. I went to bed that evening, and told little Catherine’s ghost, if she was listening, that I might soon bring her killer to justice. Ten years delayed, but justice nevertheless.
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.