(A novel by Susan Overturf)
For many reasons, I found it difficult to return the call to my nephew. After my visit to the Engles, I doubted that the mystery would ever be solved. I imagined Catherine’s ghost looking at me, glaring with indignation that I still had not brought to justice the person who was responsible for her death. So instead of calling my nephew, I busied myself with my writing, walks in the park, and reading the entire 332 pages of Dorothy Lewis’s book Guilty by Reason of Insanity, a fascinating look at the mind of a violent criminal, but it gave me no insight into Catherine’s death.
I was certain that Lorraine Engle had either intentionally or unintentionally hurt Catherine, and that she had been doing the same thing to Eileen for years. I couldn’t imagine what my nephew could say to change anything. Two days later, when I still hadn’t called him, he called me.
“Aunt Dorthea,” Jeff said, sounding annoyed. “Didn’t you get my message? Why didn’t you call back? Are you all right?”
I answered the last question first. “Yes, I’m fine, Jeff. I’ve just been busy. What’s happened?”
“A whole lot! David Fuller came in to talk to me. Without a lawyer. He just said he needed to get something off his chest. He asked if, maybe, he might be able to cut a deal if he co-operated with us about what he knew about Catherine’s death.”
“Really. And what did you say?”
“I said we might be able to make a deal! What do you think I would have said?”
I told Jeff how discouraged I was after my visits with the Engles and the Fullers, that I was convinced we would never know the answer, though I was certain that Catherine had been mistreated, most likely by her grandmother Engle.
“Well, I can tell you. It was grandma. Eileen’s mother. David is certain. He says he witnessed it often.”
“And David stood by and let it happen?”
“I asked him that, too. But he says that you just can’t understand the power of Eileen’s mother’s hold over everyone.”
I nodded my head, even though Jeff couldn’t see me. “Well, I think I have an idea of that after I visited her. Eileen was like a puppet, with her mama pulling the strings.”
Jeff went on to tell me that, with David’s testimony, the doctor’s, and even Tats’, the police felt they had a case. They hoped, of course, that eventually Eileen would come out from under her mother’s control and admit what she knew. The police were certain that Eileen had been present when her daughter had been hurt by her mother, but she likely had nothing to do with it.
“We’ve issued a warrant for Mrs. Engle’s arrest. She’ll be charged with manslaughter, not murder, since it’s assumed it was an accident. They’re probably getting her right now, Aunt Dorthea.”
“That’s great news, Jeff.”
“You did it, Aunt Dorthea. If it hadn’t have been for you, this would never have happened.”
I smiled, even though Jeff couldn’t see it. “Who do you suppose sent me those notes? Who phoned me? And why did David come to my house?”
“I know the answer to all those questions. David sent the notes and made the calls. He was afraid for Eileen. He feared that if her mother were caught, Eileen might fall apart. His goal was always to protect Eileen. He might not have cared about her at first, but it would seem that, as the years went by, he stuck by her. Which reminds me of the other reason I wanted to talk to you. Would you do me a favor?”
“Try to help Eileen. Help her find a place to stay and maybe talk to her about her mother. See what you can learn.”
“I’ll try, Jeff.”
We talked for a few minutes more and then I told Jeff I would leave for the Engles’ home immediately. The bus seemed to crawl its way down each street, and I worried that I would not get there soon enough.
I found Eileen, alone, sitting on the front steps of the mansion, seemingly lost. I walked up and sat down beside her.
“Hi,” I said. “How are you doing?”
Eileen did not respond. I sat and I waited. I thought, If I give her time, she will eventually speak.
Fifteen minutes later, she said, “It wasn’t my father, you know. He isn’t like your father.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Mother did it.”
“Yes, I know.”
“They’ve arrested her.”
“I know that, too.”
Eileen began to cry. Tears dripped down her cheeks, but she did nothing to wipe them away. She held her knees and rocked back and forth. I waited again.
“Eileen, did your mother hurt Catherine often?”
Eileen kept crying, but she nodded her head.
“Did she do the same thing to you when you were a little girl?”
Another nod of the head.
“My poor little Catherine,” she whispered. “My poor little Catherine. She was just an innocent child. I don’t know why my mother couldn’t be more patient, more caring. She had no patience with children. And Catherine had much more difficulty behaving than I did.”
“It’s not Catherine’s fault, you know. And it isn’t yours. Your mother was wrong. You know that, don’t you?”
Eileen stopped crying and looked directly at me. “Yes, I know that now. But I didn’t then.”
“Have you seen David?”
“Would you like to see him?”
“Maybe. Why? Isn’t he going to jail?”
“He might not. He went to the police and told them about your mother. The police may drop the charges against him if he testifies against your mother.”
Eileen made no response.
“David never hurt you or Catherine, did he?”
“Why did you say he did?”
“I couldn’t blame my mother! Who would believe me?”
“Someone might have, but I understand how frightened you were.”
Eileen and I sat together in the warm sun and said nothing more for several minutes. She seemed more at peace than she had been when I had first arrived, but she was still a very confused and emotionally fragile woman.
“What do you want to do, Eileen? Do you want to stay here with your father? Would you like to back to the women’s shelter? Or would you like to go back to your house and be with David?”
“I don’t know,” she said, and I could see that making the decision was causing her great agitation.
“All right, then, let’s don’t worry about it right now. Would you like to go for a walk?”
I took Eileen’s hand, and as though she were a very young child, I walked with her through a neighbouring park. She said nothing, and neither did I. Later, I took her back to her house and left her there. I thought she would be safe with her father, although I didn’t think he would be around very much. I promised her I would call her the next day and we could talk.
When I got home, I called Jeff again.
“How is she?” he asked. “Will she testify against her mother?”
“I don’t know, Jeff. She’s pretty fragile right now. But, in time, she may be willing to do so.”
“Well, thanks for trying, Aunt Dorthea. The truth is, we probably don’t need her testimony.”
“Mrs. Engle is the most controlling person I’ve ever met.”
“Of that I have little doubt.”
After our conversation, I fixed myself some tea and settled down for a quiet evening of reading and perhaps some TV viewing. I had had enough of being a police investigator, and I hoped now that I could settle down to being just a retired teacher, like Miss Hattie downstairs. As I read, I felt Catherine’s presence. I lifted my eyes from the book and turned towards the study, once Catherine’s bedroom. There she stood, in the same pretty white dress, and she was smiling. She nodded to me, and I nodded back. Then she disappeared. I knew she was thanking me, and I was sad to realize that I would probably never see her again, but perhaps her spirit would remain. Justice had been delayed, but justice had finally been served. I felt a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment.
“Catherine,” I said aloud. “It’s all right. You can rest easy now. Nobody’s ever going to hurt you again.”
- Return to Table of Contents of Chapters in Justice Delayed.
- If you are interested in reading my other novel, go to Family Legacies
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.