Patricia Simpson | Death in Amsterdam 168
Go on a journey with an American woman
as she investigates the death of her daughter in a foreign country.
Based on a true story.
© 2016 Patricia Simpson – http://www.patriciasimpson.com
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is dedicated to Camille.
Death in Amsterdam
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 | A Day Like No Other
Chapter 2 | Ex Communication
Chapter 3 | Marilyn and the Snake
Chapter 4 | Emails and Texts
Chapter 5 | Guilt Trips
Chapter 6 | Bucket List and Hurricane
Chapter 7 | Photos of the Dead, Marilyn and Wine
Chapter 8 | Marilyn’s Secret, Sick Day
Chapter 9 | Worst Day of a Mother’s Life
Chapter 10 | Letter to My Beautiful Girl
Chapter 11 | Flames and Vondelpark
Chapter 12 | Marilyn and Dirk, Ashes and Taxis
Chapter 13 | Poisonous Research, Letter Ex
Chapter 14 | The Last Text, A Sister’s Reflection
Chapter 15 | Wasted but True
Chapter 16 | I am Olivia
Chapter 17 | A New Year
My daughter is dead in Amsterdam.
I am on a bus headed for San Francisco Airport, departing on a journey I never dreamed I would make. In a few days I will say good-bye to my beautiful daughter Olivia, who was not quite thirty-one years old when she died. I am going on this trip not only to see to her cremation and bring her ashes home, but to learn all I can about her final days. I pray there is a reason for her death and that it is not the reason that haunts me.
A month ago, we received news of Olivia’s passing. My older daughter texted me, saying she was coming up to visit. I thought nothing of this, as Jemma often made the hour drive up to The Farm in Sonoma on her day off. Just another visit, I thought.
Then I saw the motorcycle trailing after her VW bug. Both vehicles parked at the curb. I leaned across my desk to get a better view through my office window. Who was with Jemma? A cop? No, the person was not wearing a uniform. Then who was it? The guy she had recently met online? Jemma had mentioned that he had a bike. But it wasn’t like Jemma to bring someone up to the house without asking me first. Especially a person I had never met. And never someone she was newly interested in.
For some reason, I got up and slipped out the front door. Jemma came up the front walk without an overnight bag or her tiny dog that usually tears through the yard and up the stairs of the wine deck. That was strange. I noticed the missing dog, but I didn’t notice the expression on Jemma’s face. I was too distracted by the identity of the cyclist.
Instead of standing on the high deck at the front of the house and waiting for the visitors to come to me as I usually did, I walked down the steps.
Jemma and I met halfway down the sidewalk. She reached for my arm.
“Mom?” Jemma’s voice cracked.
I glanced at her, still not seeing my older daughter. All I was aware of were the maple leaves at our feet, like bloody hands clutching the lawn, and the silhouette of the cyclist as he stripped himself of leather and plastic: a dark messenger emerging from an even darker chrysalis.
“Mom,” Jemma touched my shoulder. Her voice sounded thick. “She’s gone.”
I looked at Jemma’s large blue eyes, always so startling, always powdered and lined to perfection, so different from my ordinary brown eyes hidden behind glasses. Putting on glasses at the age of eight had been my first step away from the rest of the world. I had taken so many more since then. Or perhaps I had always been a few steps apart, preoccupied by my thoughts, work and the emotions of everyone around me. I had always missed things. Even big things. Or things that were big to others and were actually little things when tested against the perspective of my stepfather.
“In a hundred years, will it matter?” he would ask. Many things lost their importance in the face of such a question.
I stared at my daughter, uncomprehending.
“She’s gone, Mom. Olivia is gone.”
Still the words meant nothing. But everything started to freeze. Slippers on hard sidewalk. Maple leaves swirling. Jemma still touching my upper arm. Even my ever-churning mind froze, like a lake icing over in time-lapse.
Then I saw the motorcycle rider trudge toward me, and I recognized the small frame and wavy brown hair of Olivia’s Danish boyfriend. I could not understand what Rune was doing in Sonoma, California. The first and only time I had seen him, he had wheedled his way into a birthday celebration that Olivia had planned for my best friend and me. We had celebrated our birthdays with a trip to Amsterdam, compliments of my husband’s frequent flyer miles.
“I didn’t want Rune to come,” Olivia had commented as we parted after the birthday dinner. “It was supposed to be a girl’s night out. But he insisted on meeting you. He wanted to know what you were like.”
“It’s fine,” I answered. “I’m glad to have met him. I like meeting the people you hang out with. He seemed nice. Really short, though.”
I could never get Olivia to entertain the possibility that taller men might be a better choice. Taller men had an innate confidence that shorter men often lacked. And men with confidence problems had always been trouble for Olivia. Unfortunately, short men were drawn to my petite daughter. In fact, most men were drawn to my petite daughter. But she always picked the one who was the most piquant. And to Olivia, piquant meant foreign, older and challenging.
“I liked Rune, Olivia. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I found him huggable. Almost irresistibly huggable. And you know me and hugs.”
Olivia rolled her infamous blue-gray eyes and quirked a smile at me. The small mole to the side of her mouth punctuated her smile like a semi-colon. That mole, that smile and those full pale lips always made me think of an Italian film star from the 60s. I always expected that she would open her mouth and a flood of foreign words would come out. But she was American, this child of mine. Trying hard not to be, but still so very American in her wide-eyed innocence.
“Still, it was supposed to be girls night out. It was your birthday. I wanted it to be special.”
“It was special!” I smiled at her. “And he brought me Laphroaig, my favorite whisky. It couldn’t have been more perfect as far as dinners go.”
“Still, I want to do something together. Just the three of us. With my two moms.”
“So do we.”
“Let’s meet for a late breakfast, then go shopping. We can spend the day together. Then dinner at my favorite place?”
We planned to meet at ten for breakfast at the hotel. Olivia didn’t show. We called. She didn’t pick up. She finally texted an hour later. She was at Rune’s, running late. She’ll catch up. She’ll text me. Go ahead and eat without her. Sillies. Why would we wait? We shouldn’t have waited for her.
I felt old wounds opening: Olivia telling me she is on a diet and can’t eat dinner with me. Had I forgotten? Something came up, I meant to tell you. You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble. I need to go. I thought it would be fun up here in Lake Tahoe, but all everyone did was bash my boyfriend. Sorry, I wanted to come, but I have a deadline. Mom, it’s not important. We’ll do it some other time. I know I said Wednesday, but we never finalized anything, did we?
When it came to dealing with Olivia, I had always been the guilty party, the one with the faulty memory, the one who had misunderstood. Usually, I accepted the blame or allowed her the excuse she gave. After all, she was a grown woman. She could live her life on her own terms. Excuses were just a way of sliding out of something a person really didn’t want to do. I wasn’t going to force her to live by my rules.
Later that morning, my aging iPhone ran out of juice as my friend and I walked around Amsterdam, waiting to hear from Olivia. Olivia’s phone apparently wasn’t working either. We ended up communicating through Rune’s phone and finally got together at 2 pm.
I felt let down. I had come all the way from California to see Olivia, to spend time with her in Amsterdam. And I had just wasted four hours wondering where she was, why she wasn’t calling and waiting on her. I could feel my girlfriend’s patient curiosity at Olivia’s behavior like a metronome on my shoulder.
By the time Olivia minced across Dam Square in her impractical boots that she swore were comfortable, I was angry with her. But I tried not to show it.
“Be relax, Mom,” she said, giving me a hug and reminding me of a private joke from a couple of Christmases ago. I felt my anger surrendering to the onslaught of her casual charm. “You’re always so tense!”
She was right. I was a tense person. Life was serious to me. Growing up, I hadn’t been treated to Disneyland or vacations in Hawaii as she had. I had to watch my stepfather beating the family dog nearly to death for killing a chicken at the neighboring farm. I had to watch my thirteen-year-old brother get on a train for Ohio and never come back. I had to eat on my knees at dinner because I had clinked the fork against my teeth or had forgotten to turn off the lights in the bathroom.
Life was serious to me. I was never going to make the kind of choices that left me with five children, no resources and a second husband who sent my children away. From an early age, I put on the armor of a warrior. I would be responsible, punctual and vigilant. I would put myself through college. I would never ask anyone for anything. And I would never let anyone see me cry. Not even myself.
I knew I needed to lighten up. I was certain I needed therapy. But at fifty-nine, I had deeply-ingrained stories that I was tired of revisiting in my head. Why would I want to give them life again by their retelling to a therapist.
I sighed and forced myself to get past my frustration with Olivia.
“Well, I’m relieved you finally made it.”
“Let’s go to Leidsestraat. Donna will love all the shops there. You will, too.”
I hated shopping. Shopping for doo-dads, as I called them. But I was here for Olivia. For Olivia—today here in Amsterdam—I would do anything and go anywhere she wished.
Just like everybody else. Just like her sister.
Ten years earlier on a four-month European trek, Olivia had ditched her sister in Venice to marry an Estonian lover who was facing deportation…
April 2004 — Jemma’s Journal
Monday – 19th: Only when we’re at the airport can we actually relax. I can’t believe Olivia is leaving. That’s all that’s running through my head. She checked in with time to spare. So what do we do? Crave ice cream and chocolate. This time, though, it was well deserved. We each got a Magnum. And when they were finished, it was time to go. Saying good-bye was a lot harder than I had expected. I think we’ve grown a lot closer in just these past two months. How strange because we used to be so evil to each other. Then she was off. My little sister is getting married. How strange! Maybe it was meant to be. Still, it seems rather random, and she’s still so young. I have ten days alone to look forward to here in Venice. Gross.
Wednesday —28th: I finally got an email from Olivia. Like I’d thought she’d been really busy with getting married and all. So, it’s done now. She’s Mrs. Salumae. Olivia Lorraine Salumae. Mom’s going to shit when she finds out—whenever that might be. Maybe September or October when we get back to the States.
To this day I keep hoping that Olivia’s death is a ruse she has devised to slip away forever and not have to face her debts, the people whose love constrained her, a mother who worried about her choices, but most of all to escape her expectations of self. I pray that she has tricked us all, and that I will someday be absolved of the part I might have played in her passing. But the way she exited has left me with nothing but questions. The ultimate guilt trip.
On the bus, my phone announces a new email. It’s from Eric, Olivia’s father, a man she hasn’t seen for eighteen years. I would have preferred not to tell him anything of his daughter’s life and death. He doesn’t deserve to know. But that wouldn’t be fair. So weeks ago, I found his address on the web and wrote him a brief letter to explain what had occurred. I was mildly surprised when he wrote back, as well as his formal choice of words. I suspected someone else had written the email for him.
[_Please regard as sincere my heartfelt expression of sympathy for you and Jemma for your grief upon learning of Olivia’s fate. I am grateful that you have informed me but very saddened that Olivia has met some as yet undisclosed fate. The very troubling story that the news article has described has left me very unsettled. Please let me know when you learn more details of the circumstances surrounding her death. May I know more about the date of the cremation when those plans are confirmed? Thank you for what you have shared thus far. _]
For the first time in years, I am corresponding with the man I never should have married. Death has bound us together as birth once had. I’m not sure how or what I feel about the situation. Mostly I feel nothing, and I don’t think that is natural or healthy. I open his second email.
I spoke with Jemma and expressed that I would like to be there in Amsterdam for the cremation service for Olivia. She asked you and she replied by text that it would be ok with you and her. Do you have any specific details about when and where, at what time, the service will be performed? Will I be able to see Olivia before the service? I know that you will be flying to Amsterdam today so I hope this will reach you before you leave.
I stare at my phone. Eric had asked if I would mind if he attended the cremation service. The request had taken me by surprise. For two decades the girls had not heard a word from him. He had performed only the minimum requirements of a divorced father. He had sent child support. Nothing more. We had joint custody, but after a few years he quit taking the girls. He remarried and had two more children. And then he was gone.
I was the one to buy the prom dresses, pay for driving lessons, get their first cars, take them to the doctor, to the dentist and wipe away their tears. And now he was asking to share in our good-bye to Olivia. He hadn’t earned the right to say anything to her. I should have said no.
But I am just not the type to lash out.
His presence at the ceremony will be difficult, especially for Jemma. She has suffered considerable emotional damage because of the way he dropped out of her life. She claims she is over it now, that she has made peace with the abandonment, that her father means nothing to her. But I don’t believe it.
I made the same claims about my own father: that I never think of him, that he had no affect on my life. But I know his absence is a shadow that comes out to touch me when I am weak.
With Eric’s email, my journey ahead clouds even more. I tap in the cremation details in a reply email and then watch the white bones of the SFO terminal appear in my window. Numbness envelops me as I retrieve my bag. People and cars mumble in the distance. I roll into the building to find Jemma. We will fly together, cry together, and after a couple of drinks, take frazzled selfies to chronicle our once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Looking back, the first day of Olivia’s death was the most difficult. Not because of grief, but because of disbelief. At first I didn’t trust a word Rune said. Neither did my husband Garry.
“She’s dead,” Rune blubbered, collapsing on a stool at the long white bar of our kitchen. “I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. Why?”
I gaped at him. The last text exchange I’d had with Olivia—the last conversation with her I would ever have—was about Rune. She had texted me to warn me that Rune had sent me a message and that I should ignore it. (I never got the message.) They had broken up over his behavior while he was in the States on business. He had done something that proved he was not the man she thought he was. She felt he’d been manipulating her. She couldn’t take it anymore. She was tired of giving so much. She was not going to marry him.
I barely knew Rune. But I knew some of her other boyfriends. One in particular: Carlo. That man might have said anything to hurt me, just to get back at Olivia. Perhaps Rune was like Carlo.
Besides that, why did Rune know something before I did? I was Olivia’s mother. I was her next of kin. I’d always assumed there was a certain protocol when it came to death notifications.
“What do you mean Olivia is dead.” Garry demanded. “How? When?”
“She was taken to the hospital. She died of heart failure.”
Drug use whipped through my mind. I knew Olivia smoked pot sometimes. I knew from Jemma that she had used cocaine. Anything could happen in Amsterdam with so many drugs available. My stomach turned.
“How do you know these things?” I asked. “No one has contacted us.”
“Someone called me. A detective handling the case. Here.” He fumbled in the pocket of his jeans for a business card. “This is the person that called.”
Garry and I looked at the card. Ans Laanker. A name and number were scrawled on the back of someone else’s card. My suspicion deepened. The name and number could belong to anyone. My belief that Rune was toying with us flared.
The snot that hung from his nose told me otherwise. “Two hours later. At the hospital. They couldn’t save her.”
I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to do.
“It’s all my fault.” Rune buried his head in his hands. Jemma reached across to pat the back of a man she had never met. I made no such gesture. Though I had found Rune huggable a few months ago, I was no longer sure of his status. If Olivia had broken up with him, he was the enemy. If he had hurt her in any way, if in fact, he was at fault, I was not about to offer comfort to him.
“Let me see that.” Garry snatched the business card from the counter and grabbed his phone. There was no country code with the number on the card. Garry didn’t know the code for Holland. Neither did Rune, as his smart phone did the work for him. Garry turned away, punching numbers. Nothing worked.
I turned to Rune. “What else do you know?”
“She was found unconscious last night in a back garden. 1 am. A friend’s house. Someone heard moaning. She was taken to a hospital. That’s all I know. I was here in the Bay Area when it happened.” He shook his head and started to sob again. “I should never have left. But I was so tired of her ups and downs. It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”
What had he just said? Olivia died of heart failure? What did those words have to do with anything. Olivia had suffered a heart attack? Not possible. A lie. How could anyone be so heartless as to tell me such things about my own daughter. And yet Olivia had a propensity for choosing men with control issues. I had thought Rune was different. Soft-spoken. Gentle. Devoted. But maybe he was just like all the others.
I didn’t know what to do or say. I was incapable of forward motion. I hung in a state of suspended animation, suspended belief. But I had to do something. I asked if Jemma or Rune wanted anything—coffee, water, anything. But Rune wanted only water. I put a glass in front of him and then got out my phone. I had to get some kind of corroboration. I had to talk to the detective on that card or the police.
In my shock, I couldn’t find any phone numbers on the web. All that I could find were links to Amsterdam, New York. Who knew?
Rune struggled to find the number on his phone. So did Garry. How hard could it be to find the country code of Holland? Apparently it was difficult, and I wasn’t up to the challenge. I couldn’t think straight. It didn’t occur to me to Google “How to call Amsterdam, Netherlands.” The computer screen blurred in front of my eyes—for once in my life I could not bend the digital world to my will.
The vision of my daughter being worked on by Dutch medical professionals in a dark room in Amsterdam swept over me. Impossible. Rune must be lying. Someone would have called. Someone would have notified us. It couldn’t be true. He was joking. He was being as cruel as a person could be.
Finally, I thought of Google. I typed in “How to call Amsterdam Netherlands from the United States” and found the country code for the Holland. Garry punched in the number of the detective and went outside where cell phone reception was better but also to shield me from the conversation. I was thankful he had taken on the task of communicator. My lips, heart and mind were turning to paste.
Jemma and I kept making noises of disbelief. Rune kept sobbing and avoiding eye contact.
My husband walked back into the house. “No answer,” he said. He glanced at his watch. “No wonder. It’s midnight in Holland.” He shot me that look he has: direct, no blame, no sympathy, no judgment—his Scottish let’s-just-get-this-job-done kind of look. In fact, he hadn’t uttered a single swear word. He must have been in shock. Almost as much as I was.
“What about calling the police?” Jemma ventured. “There has to be someone at a police station, even after hours. There has to be a way to find their number.”
That’s when I thought of asking Google again. Finally I found a number for the police, but couldn’t force myself to pick up my phone. I looked at my husband. He must have read the terror in my eyes at the prospect of having to perform such a task. I couldn’t have dialed the number, much less spoken the words out loud to a foreign policeman who probably wouldn’t be able to understand me when I announced that I was calling about my daughter. My daughter who might be dead. Thankfully, my world-traveling Rock of Gibraltar husband keyed in the number and walked out of the house again.
Time stood still. Time flew. The ticking of the wall clock thundered. I was aware of the furnace blower noise closing in on me. I don’t know how long Garry was outside. It could have been hours. He pulled open the back door and stuffed his phone in his pocket.
His gaze met mine and held. “It’s true,” he said. His face was firm. Not shocked. Not sad. Not incredulous. Just firm. He seemed to be waiting for me to react, and then he would display his emotions.
Olivia was dead.
Rune was not lying. I felt terrible that we had doubted him. But I think he understood. I hope he understood.
I still could not process facts. My world came to a complete standstill. My mind turned off. No tears came. I had ceased to process.
My little girl was dead. I must go to her…
To fill the gap of my silence, Garry reported the scant details he’d learned. The police had repeated what Rune had already relayed and not much more. There was alcohol in Olivia’s blood and that of the woman she was found with. A vial containing a “potion” had been discovered with them. They were investigating. Interviewing people. Looking at camera footage. A toxicology report would be forthcoming.
“Potion?” I asked. “What kind of potion?”
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When Dutch police tell American Leigh French that a mysterious potion has killed her daughter, Leigh travels to Holland to search for answers. Why did two young women die in the rear garden of a house in Amsterdam? Was it suicide or homicide? This gripping account of journal entries, texts, emails and narrative passages chronicles the journey of a desperate mother struggling to make sense of the ultimate loss. This is the story of one familyâ€™s pursuit of the truth after the loss of their daughter. It is a cautionary tale that shows the far reaching impact of family values and the potential conflict with the new values of younger generationsâ€”proof that these conflicts are not restricted to teens and college-aged children, but continue into our adult lives.