(A novel by Susan Overturf)
[“She put her hands on her hips, and literally stuck out her tongue at him.”]
I did not look forward to returning to Joseph and Jane’s small apartment four blocks away up Nelson Street. Even though it was just a short walk, it seemed as though they lived in some kind of a warped time zone, where nothing had changed since their twins, Robin and Robert, had died, and their youngest son, Peter, had turned to drugs and a life on the streets.
Joseph had been unfriendly and uncooperative on my first visit, and I didn’t know if he would be willing to tell me where his sister was; I knew that Jane would be more willing to tell me, if Joseph did not intimidate her. My trip could be a total failure, unless I could either find both of them in a pleasant mood (which was hard to imagine) or get Jane alone in the hallway outside the apartment, as I did the last time.
With these thoughts in mind, I walked slowly up Nelson street, hoping that all would go well. I had called Joseph and Jane that morning. Jane had agreed to let me come in, though she knew nothing of my purpose. She almost seemed eager to have company, but her enthusiasm had not decreased my anxiety. Whatever diplomatic skills I possessed were going to come in handy now.
I arrived ten minutes early and rang the apartment. Jane buzzed me in (I was beginning to think that Joseph never left the couch) and I was at their door in moments. Jane greeted me with a friendly smile and she wore another muu-muu, similar to the one she had on before. In fact, I thought it might be the same one, though I couldn’t remember the colours in the first one.
She took my jacket and hat and we walked together into the living room. Joseph was in the same place he had been the last time I had visited. He was eating from a bag of potato chips, and I could not imagine why anyone would want to eat them at 9:30 in the morning. He also had a large can of Coke right beside him.
He said nothing as I came into the room, and I took the same seat, in a large chair which sat opposite the couch, as I did the first time. Jane sank into the couch beside her husband and, for a moment, there was an awkward silence.
“How are you doing?” I asked, just to get the conversation going.
“Oh, we’re fine,” Jane said. Joseph said nothing, and kept feeding his face with potato chips. “What can we do to help?” Jane asked.
"Well, I’m still looking into the mystery of Hattie’s parentage — "
“There is no mystery!” Joseph shouted.
“Joseph,” Jane scolded, “be polite. Dorthea is trying to help her friend, and there’s nothing wrong in Hattie wanting to know who her parents were.”
Joseph glared at his wife. “There damn well is, when it’s all a bunch of nonsense. She knows who her parents are.” After scolding his wife, Joseph turned his anger back to me. “Mrs. Parsons, this family doesn’t need your meddling with our affairs. Haven’t you been warned to stay away?”
My heart began to pound. Was it Joseph who had called me twice? I wondered. No, it didn’t sound like his voice. Yet his comment indicated that it was either him, or someone he knew, who had called me. I saw no reason to beat around the bush.
“Was it you who called me?”
Jane looked puzzled. “Joseph? What are you talking about? What calls?”
“If you don’t know about the calls, Joseph, then why did you say ‘no’ to my question?”
“Because I never called you,” he replied.
“You put a friend up to it, didn’t you?” I asked.
Jane interrupted again: “Dorthea. Joseph. What are you talking about?”
“I’ve received two phone calls, Jane, from a man who has told me to stay away from this inquiry.”
Jane frowned and rubbed her forehead. “Oh, my. Did he threaten you?”
“Not in so many words, no. But whoever it was knew a lot about what I had been doing.”
Jane turned to her husband. “Joseph, did you do this?”
“I said no!”
“Well, I don’t believe you!” Jane stood up — slowly — and moved across the room. She stood at the window and looked out, and then turned to face both Joseph and me. It was as though at that moment she couldn’t stand to sit beside her own husband. “Whether you admit it or not, Joseph, I know you put somebody up to this. Who was it? Pete? I’ll bet it was Pete. You two are always coming up with stupid ideas.”
Joseph remained silent. He was not going to admit to anything.
“Jane,” I said. “Let’s get back to why I came here.”
Jane paced the room, walking behind the couch, and then in front of her husband and me. She circled at least three times while Joseph and I looked at each other. I hoped my eyes told him that I knew his game and he wasn’t going to scare me. Without any fuss, Jane returned to the couch after pacing three full circles in the room.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s get on with it. What do you want to know?” Then she turned to Joseph and said, “I’m going to talk to Dorthea, Joseph. If you don’t want to talk to her, you can leave.”
Joseph, for the first time that I had ever seen, actually seemed subdued by his wife. He shook his head and continued to eat potato chips and drink his coke.
“I’m not leaving,” he said. “I want to hear what’s going to be said.”
“Suit yourself,” Jane said.
I realized that it was time for me to make my best case for asking to know where Dorothy was. I began by telling them all that I had learned. I didn’t see any reason why I should hold back, so I told them that I knew about the letter (but I didn’t tell Joseph that it was Jane who had first started me on that path), about Hattie’s false birth certificate, about the incorrect marriage date on Martha and William’s marriage certificate, about the two threatening phone calls. Finally, I explained how the letter, written by Matilda, had gone to her sister, Martha, then to Mary, then to Margaret. I told them how I had found Margaret in Vancouver’s downtown east side, and I wondered if they thought that Margaret might know their son Peter.
I was hoping that one of them would ask the important question, and Jane did: “Does Margaret still have the letter?”
“No,” I said, “unfortunately not.”
“So you’ve come to a dead end,” Joseph said.
“Why not?” Jane asked. “What else do you know? Did Margaret give the letter to someone else?”
“Yes, she did.”
“Who?” Joseph asked. He looked wary and uncertain.
“Your sister, Dorothy.” I said.
“Dorothy?” Joseph shouted. “Ho, she wouldn’t have kept it. I’ll bet she burned it the minute she got it!”
“Why would she do that?” I asked.
“Because she’s a very private person. Ever since that husband of hers shot himself she’s practically been a recluse.” I looked at Joseph and thought it was the pot calling the kettle black. He continued: “She would not want to be involved in this.”
Jane shook her head. “I’m not so sure about that, Joseph. You don’t really know your own sister very well.”
Joseph shook his head, reached down by the side of the couch and picked up another bag of potato chips. The empty bag slid down in front of him. “Oh, shut up, Jane! This is none of your business. This is about Creightons. And you’re not one of us.”
Jane’s eyes showed her anger and her sorrow that, after more than forty years of marriage to this man, she was not considered a Creighton. She put her hands on her hips, and literally stuck out her tongue at him. This scene of domestic squabble did not impress me and I seriously considered leaving, but I was still hoping — though it was dwindling — that I might yet get the information I was seeking: Dorothy’s married name.
I re-opened the conversation by trying to change it: “What does Dorothy do?”
“She sells real estate,” Jane said, ignoring her husband’s pout.
“Here in Vancouver?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s worked for a number of different ones. I’m not sure who’s she with now. Remax maybe?” And she turned to Joseph for help but he merely shook his head and put another potato chip in his mouth.
“Well, maybe I can find her then,” I said.
“Oh, she should be easy to find. She always won awards for her job — she sold a lot of houses.”
“Did she work with a partner?” I asked.
“I don’t think so.” Joseph again remained silent, allowing his wife to answer my questions. Then Jane gave me the information I needed: “She went back to her maiden name after her husband committed suicide. She had no children, and she’d been married less than a year when he shot himself. She felt, I think, as though she had never been married.”
So, my visit had been a success, yet ironically I had never considered that I could find Dorothy by using her maiden name, Crieghton.
“Oh,” I said, pretending that this was not the information I had come to get, “how convenient. It will be easier to find her then.”
Joseph and Jane looked at me with blank faces. I could not tell what either of them was thinking, but I hurried on.
“Well, I really must go. I do thank you for your time, though, and perhaps I can come and visit another day.” I’m sure they didn’t believe me. I didn’t believe myself!
Jane stood up. “Yes, Dorthea, it was nice to see you. Let me take you to the door.”
“You leave our daughter alone, Dorthea.” The lion on the couch had again awakened.
“Nonsense, Joseph. Dorothea isn’t going to bother Dorothy.”
Jane and I walked to the door. Once again, she went out into the hallway with me. “I do apologize for my husband, Dorthea. He’s always cranky.”
“That’s all right,” I said, not meaning it at all. “Did you have something you wanted to tell me?”
“Of course,” she said, and smiled at me as though we were the best co-conspirators in the world. “Dorothy is retired now, but she did work for Remax in the final years of her career. She lives in Kitsilano and, as far as I know, she’s well. She and Joseph don't get along well, but I talk with her every few weeks.”
“Thank you, Jane. Once again you have given me vital information in my search for Hattie’s parents.”
Jane smiled. “I’m glad to help. You should be able to find Dorothy’s number in the phone book — I don’t think it’s unlisted — but if you can’t find her, give me a call. We used to have her number and I suspect it’s somewhere in the house. She usually calls me so I don't have her number memorized.”
“You haven’t talked to her recently then?”
“No,” she said. “She stayed away from the family after George killed himself. She and Joseph never really got along with each other.” Jane said this with absolutely no ironic tone. I could not imagine how she had managed to stay married to Joseph for forty years, but I didn’t ask.
As I started to turn, Jane tugged at my sleeve. “Dorthea, please keep me informed. Will you?”
“Of course,” I said, and then I realized that I wanted to ask one more thing: “Jane, do you think Joseph put up that friend of his, Peter, to call me and try to scare me away from this?”
Jane frowned. “Probably. Yes.” She looked me in the eyes. “Unfortunately. Joseph doesn’t always think before he does things. He and Peter get together every week for drinks. Peter comes over to the house. I usually go downstairs to visit with a friend of mine while Peter is here. It wouldn’t surprise me if Peter agreed to call you. He didn’t actually threaten you, did he?”
“I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘threaten.’ He didn’t say he’d kill me; there was just an ‘or else’ tone to his comments.” I looked at Jane and could tell that she was disturbed about this but also felt helpless. So I added: “Don’t worry. I suspect that Joseph will tell Peter to stop, now that he knows that we both know.”
“Yes, probably,” Jane said, but she had a doubtful scowl on her face.
I told Jane I would keep in touch, not knowing if I could ever face returning to that living room again, and took the elevator to the first floor. I walked down Nelson Street, considering my options. It seemed likely I would easily find Dorothy, especially since she was using her maiden name. How ironic! I had not needed to even go to see Joseph and Jane! But I looked forward to my encounter with Dorothy. I thought it would be considerably different than the one I had with Margaret — and I was optimistic that Dorothy would still have the letter.
- Continue to Chapter 13.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Table of Contents of Chapters in Secrets.
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.