(A novel by Susan Overturf)
With my nephew’s warning very much on my mind, I began to have second thoughts about my private sleuthing. I had dealt with enough angry parents in my teaching career to know that I had no desire to deal with drunk, abusive, or angry people. Once, an angry and out-of-control mother grabbed my arm and attempted to prevent me from leaving the room; that woman was later served with a restraining order. I knew all too well how easily people could get hostile, particularly when you were talking about their children. After many years of confrontations with parents and students, I suffered from the same disorder my father suffered from after enduring World War II: post-traumatic stress. Retirement had brought me some peace. Now, even though I believed in the very certain possibility that little Catherine was murdered, I began to have serious doubts about confronting her parents.
David Fuller, from all that I could learn, was a powerful and important man, and I knew that he wouldn’t take lightly to any suggestion that something other than the official one was the cause of his daughter’s death. If, in fact, he had anything to do with it at all, I figured he would most likely attempt to intimidate me, so that things would stay the way they were. It was hard to know how Eileen Fuller might react. I might be able to appeal to our common experiences as mothers. I was certainly more sure that I could meet with Eileen than I could with David.
So, for a few days, I did nothing further on the behalf of little Catherine Fuller. Instead, I went back to my personal family exploration and spent more time reviewing what I knew about my family up until I turned five. In my inheritance boxes, I found my father’s service record, his medals, and some of the letters he had written when he was in the war. When I first found them, all tied together with a little yellow ribbon, I wondered if I would ever have the courage to open and read them. For a while, I decided, I wasn’t ready for that. So I placed them on the table and left them there.
What became more and more obvious to me, as I continued this work, was that my father was an angry, brutal man when he returned from the war. This would seem an obvious conclusion to an outsider, but to one who lived it, it is sometimes hard to see the forest through the trees. I could not remember the first time my father had hit me, but I was as much of a target as my mother or my four siblings. It became the only survival task of each evening: to be the one he did not hit. But it didn’t take much to anger him: a smile, a giggle, a spill, a cough. Sometimes he just punched me in the arm or the leg. Sometimes he slapped my face. Sometimes he picked me up and threw me. But usually it happened no more than once in an evening since there was always someone else to pick on. For that, I supposed, I should be grateful.
One morning, after being immersed in memories of my father’s violence, I felt that it was time to focus my issues elsewhere. I needed to breathe clean air and appreciate the simple gifts of life: sunshine, cool air, peace and tranquility. I grabbed my jacket, toque, and mitts, and left my apartment. Something took me down to Coal Harbour, along the sea wall, and up to Canada Place. The next thing I knew I was wandering the streets of downtown Vancouver, trying to remember the name of the law firm that David Fuller worked for. I was pretty certain it was Reed, Reed, and Bailey, and the address was on Hornby. Sure enough, I found a large office building at 787 Hornby, walked into the foyer, and the concierge told me that the Reed, Reed, and Bailey offices were on the 18th floor. Without giving it much thought, I went to the elevator.
As the elevator rose, I asked myself what I was doing. I had no plan, no idea what I would say. My nephew had warned me that David Fuller might be dangerous and, indeed, I thought he might be quite devious and cunning as well. I couldn’t imagine what he could do to me, however, while I was in his office, pretending to be a client. Still, I almost pushed the button to go back down when the door opened for the 18th floor. I stepped out. Down the hall to the right was a very big, spacious office, with glassed entrance doors for the offices of Reed, Reed, and Bailey.
Gaining all the courage I could muster, I pushed through the doors. I was glad that I was neatly dressed: black slacks, a blue knit top, and a black sweater-jacket. My shoes, although black, were a bit scuffed because I wore them all the time for walking. In any event, I felt reasonably presentable. The young woman at the counter asked if she could help.
“Well, I hope so,” I said, pretending (I hope successfully) to act like a potential client. “I’m looking for Mr. Fuller. Mr. David Fuller. I believe he works here?”
“Yes, of course. Did you have an appointment?“
“Well, no, actually I don’t. Is that a problem?”
“It might not be. It depends on Mr. Fuller’s current schedule. Let me see what I can find out. And what is your name?”
“What do you wish to see him about?”
I remembered from my research that David Fuller did personal injury lawsuits. “I may want to sue someone,” I said.
The clerk told me to have a seat and left. A few minutes later she returned to say that Mr. Fuller would see me, but there would be about a fifteen-minute wait. I flipped through magazines, trying to calm my beating heart, and wondering how I was going to present myself. Should I pretend that I was investigating the death of a child? Should I say I wanted to sue someone who I believed had killed a child? Or should I admit who I was and what I was doing there? Before I could make up my mind, Mr. Fuller came from a hallway inside the waiting room and stood before me.
“Mrs. Parsons?” he asked.
“Please come with me.” David Fuller wore a dark business suit, a white shirt, and a dark blue tie. He was clean-shaven and very professional in his manner. He led me down the same hallway he had entered from and turned right into a very large, plush office. He held the door for me as I entered. A large desk, solid oak and well polished, was placed against a large window that looked down towards Coal Harbour. A leather chair matched the desk. In front of his desk were two comfortable chairs, also made of leather. Each item on his desk was precisely placed; there was no sense of confusion. This was the desk of an organized mind; that was at least one thing Mr. Fuller and I had in common. Filing cabinets filled up one entire wall, and a large ficus tree stood in the corner, apparently well cared for. I assumed that a secretary took care of that plant, not David Fuller. A lush, nondescript, brown carpet stretched wall-to-wall. On the walls were works of art, but nothing that I recognized, though I’m not much of an art expert. Perhaps they were local artists. They were bland, like the rest of the office, merely shades of browns and tans, and said little to the heart or emotions. Although the office seemed impersonal, it was expensive and I thought of all the dingy classrooms I had taught in and the many students who didn’t have enough money for supplies or lunch.
David Fuller sat down in his large padded office chair, pointed to the other chairs for me, and asked, “What can I do for you, Mrs. Parsons?”
This was my moment of decision, and I had still not made up my mind what to say. I concluded in less than a second that it was best to stick to the truth as much as possible. “Mr. Fuller, do you believe in ghosts?” I asked.
I think David Fuller had expected to hear many things from a prospective client in his office, but a question about ghosts surprised him and put him off his guard. He raised his eyebrows. “Ghosts? Why do you ask?”
“Well, I recently rented Apartment Five-one-three in Royal Manor. You know where that is, don’t you?” I asked.
David visibly tensed. He sat up in his chair and leaned his elbows over his desk. I could see the muscles on his neck begin to bulge. I had seen that before on my father, many years ago. David looked at me across the desk. His eyes were cold and expressionless. He was trying to intimidate me, and doing a fairly good job of it. I could feel my heart beating slightly faster, but not out of control. “Yes, of course, I know where it is,” he said, “and you already know that I know where that is. What’s this about, Mrs. Parsons?”
Although I could sense the antagonism, I pushed on. Surprisingly, no symptoms of anxiety surfaced. “Well,” I said slowly, “I learned shortly after I moved into that apartment that your daughter died there. And I have learned that many people have seen her ghost.”
David relaxed back into his chair. It was as though he had just realized that he was working with a complete fool, and I was no threat to him. “Are you telling me that you have seen my daughter’s ghost?” he asked incredulously.
I had already decided that admitting to seeing his daughter’s ghost would not convince David Fuller of my serious intentions. To keep my anxiety at a low level, I spoke slowly: “I think I have felt her presence, and she seems sad and worried. Why do you think she might be sad and worried?”
David seemed sure now that I was a con artist, trying to get something from him. Money, no doubt. “What’s your scam, Mrs. Parsons?” he asked scornfully. “Do you think I will pay you to not tell people my daughter’s ghost is sad and worried? This is ridiculous! I’m ordering you out of my office right now!” He stood up and pointed his finger at the door.
I remained amazingly calm, and I was grateful for that. I guess facing potential child killers was less threatening to me than facing the annoyed parents or argumentative students I had faced for thirty-five years. “I’m not here to scam you, Mr. Fuller,” I assured him. “I want to help you find your daughter’s killer.”
David Fuller remained standing. “That’s ridiculous!” he shouted indignantly. “My daughter wasn’t murdered. It was an accident. Since you seem to know so much about my family and my child, surely you know that the official ruling was that it was an accident. There is nothing to find, Mrs. Parsons. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy.”
“I agree it was a terrible tragedy, Mr. Fuller, but it wasn’t an accident.” My words were strong and confident.
“Oh, really,” he said sarcastically and tilted his head. “And I suppose you know something that no one else has been able to uncover. Perhaps my daughter’s ghost told you?” He smiled, but his tone was derisive. I knew that I would have to be cautious. This man was a bully, just like my father had been.
“No, I’ve spent some time looking into your daughter’s case, Mr. Fuller. And I believe she was murdered by a person or persons unknown.”
“And who might that be?” he asked, again sarcastically. He remained behind his desk, but he was still standing and no longer pointing.
I chose my words carefully. “Well, both you and your wife were there, but perhaps someone else was there. Did something happen that you never wanted to tell the police, Mr. Fuller?”
It was all that Mr. Fuller was going to stand for. “This is outrageous!” he yelled at me. “You are accusing me and/or my wife of killing our own child! I went through this ten years ago and I’ll not go through it again. You are a nobody with no evidence and no information. You know nothing about me, my wife, or our child. I’ve asked you to leave, Mrs. Parsons, and if you don’t, I will have you thrown out. Which will it be?” He moved to the side of his desk, and I was certain that he would soon place his hands on me if I didn’t show an intention to leave.
I stood up before he could reach me. “Ok, I’ll leave quietly, Mr. Fuller. There’s no need to have anyone come and get me. But I do hope you’ll think about this, Mr. Fuller. I might be able to help, and don’t you want your daughter to rest in peace?”
“She is resting in peace, Mrs. Parsons. And don’t ever come near me or any members of my family again. I’ll serve a harassment charge on you instantly.” With that final comment, I tried to leave with as much dignity as possible, almost getting lost before I found the main foyer. As I walked out, the young woman at the counter said ludicrously but with a smile, “Thank you. Please come again.”
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.