February 26, 2023

Double Bubble Chapter 13: I Squeeze a Grapefruit Now and Again

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This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series Double Bubble

When I get the Collis Report, it is every bit as diffident as the man himself.

Having met him and watched him suck down that salad, I’m convinced he’s a human hedgehog, and his report is the hedge in which he has hidden his opinion. Not that it is as bad as I expected, but it is not as strong as I need.

On the overdose theory, he says it is unclear to him that Danny ingested ecstasy at all, though he can’t rule it out as a possibility. As such, he is only prepared to say that it is as plausible that Danny masturbated himself to death as it is that he overdosed on ecstasy. He is not prepared to say that Danny didn’t commit suicide, only that he thinks it is unlikely. Without the toxicology report, he is unwilling to go further. And while his report provides a plausible explanation for the physical evidence and may be sufficient to oppugn the Terror’s overdose theory, without the toxicology report, Katrina’s claim is still vulnerable to attack.

The trouble isn’t that Collis is wrong about Danny’s death or that his theory isn’t factually sound and true. The trouble is that our system encourages and rewards lazy thinking and decision-making, and in the contest over truth, Terrence’s overdose theory triggers a host of essential cognitive biases that will tip the outcome in his favour.

Even if there wasn’t a motive for suicide, my theory that Danny accidentally jerked himself to death will require me to persuade a judge to accept a scientific possibility that defies their personal everyday experience and understanding of the dangers of masturbation. Terrence’s theory of overdose, on the other hand, requires only that he find a judge born in the last hundred years who read yesterday’s news. Unfortunately, that means my theory of masturbation equals death, while plausible, is unlikely to beat Terrence’s theory that losers in life use illicit drugs to overdose and kill themselves. The system is rigged to reward reductivist thinking. Stated differently, judges believe what they already know to be true even if that truth is a gross oversimplification, not universal, and quite possibly wrong.

And don’t bother looking that up in any law book or book on trial advocacy. Those books are filled with bullshit intended to preserve the illusion that the decision-makers who populate our system are chosen from an island of perfectly rational thinkers who never succumb to biased thinking. And yes, it is true that the system has taken some steps to address more systemic biases like racism and gender discrimination — though on any given day in any random courtroom, you wouldn’t have to break a sweat to see examples of those systemic biases continuing to flourish — but the system continues to cling to its antiquated, simple, and frankly laughable, belief that its decision makers are always rational and, therefore neutral. They aren’t. Not because they are malicious or corrupt — the accusation so often levelled at them — but because they are human. And as humans, we are feeble-minded.

And yes, I hear you. I’m a cynical curmudgeon. But I assure you, I don’t think humans are dumb. But we are intellectually lazy. And in our legal system, intellectual laziness has been silently promoted as a cure for a broken selection process, an overburdened bureaucracy, and a society that encourages self-indulgence and self-gratification. The system has responded to a tidal wave of endless litigants and meritless lawsuits with ineffective rules and insipid decision-makers. We have given up on truth in favour of efficiency. And intellectual discipline in favour of sciolistic reasoning.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always been so cynical. But a few years ago, I came across a comprehensive listing of the cognitive biases we fall prey to as a species. I was struck by just how vulnerable our thinking is to distortion and how readily we accept as true that which has little resemblance to the truth. It was a lightbulb moment, one that started my downward spiral of disillusionment.

It wasn’t that I clung naively to a view that our decision-makers were unburdened by cognitive biases. I knew that they were and accepted that premise as fact. But in my arrogance, I naturally assumed that my effort and energy, my hard work and diligence, my persuasion and advocacy would always negate the cognitive bias at play in my cases. I tried cases on the erroneous assumption that fierce advocacy would always rout lazy thinking and that skilled cross-examination would always root out dishonest equivocation.

But after finding that listing and seeing the sheer number of biases that might be engaged in any legal contest, it became apparent to me that the winning story is rarely the truthful story. From the principle of least effort by which we will typically accept the first idea that comes to us to the belief bias and our tendency to judge the strength of any argument on how strongly it aligns with our own set of values, the winning story is the story that leans heavily and imperceptibly on these shallow substitutes for deep thinking.

So, without a toxicology report confirming that Danny did not ingest any or sufficient ecstasy to trigger the subarachnoid hemorrhage, I’m left hoping I will draw a judge who is open to being persuaded and not someone looking for an easy explanation that satisfies their sense of how the world should work.

But hope is not a strategy. To win, I need to eliminate the overdosing theory entirely, something I hadn’t thought possible until meeting with Collis. His insight about a missing toxicology report has inflated a small balloon of possibility, if only because I’m convinced that the report exists and, what’s more, that Terrence is the reason it wasn’t in the file.

Or, more precisely, that his buddy, Sergeant Raymond Fisk, of the Ottawa police, did him a favour and buried or deleted the report. He’s that kind of guy. I suspected as much when I saw Fisk’s name in the file but had assumed he had doctored his own report. Fisk and the Terror are bum buddies and have run in the same circles since high school.

I first met Fisk a decade ago when Terrence introduced him to me during one of our cases. It was a large fire loss, and our insurer client was trying to set up the insured for arson. Only we had nothing going for us except a hunch, and our adjuster’s say so. But that didn’t stop Terrence. He knew how to take our hunch from fiction to fact. He called Fisk and Fisk obliged. I wasn’t thrilled to be a part of their fabrication, but I can’t claim to have raised a fuss about it either. It was a job with winners and losers, and I was addicted to acting for winners. And I can’t claim to have lost much sleep over the law-abiding citizen framed by Fisk for arson. The insured’s claim was paid, albeit for half as much as it was worth. No one went to jail. It was only business.

I’d love to tell you I have had some moral epiphany, or that I have had a change of heart or that I have suddenly grown a conscience. I’d love to tell you that. But I can’t. My ethics are as shallow as a dried-up river bed, and my rectitude as barren and black as an asphalt parking lot. It’s still only business. If I had a friend like Fisk to help me bury a bad report, my only question would be how deep to dig the hole. That’s the game. My job now is to figure out where they buried it and to try and dig it up.

That’s why yesterday, I fired off a nastygram to Terrence demanding that he produce the toxicology report. I don’t even know if the fucking report exists, but I can’t tell him that. Instead, my letter asserted that the report does exist and that I know he has had a hand in hiding it. I’m certain my letter brought a smile to Terrence’s face. He loves a good letter bombing campaign, and he seized on this first salvo as his opportunity to engage me in a continuous back-and-forth exchange of increasing rhetoric, the lawyerly equivalent of Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf’s Desert Storm of shock and awe.

He responded almost immediately with his obligatory denial and then launched his own accusations of wrongdoing by me. I followed with my reply and volley. This was followed immediately by his. It’s only been a day, and already we have exchanged ten letters and emails between us. I won’t be able to keep up with Terrence, but that’s alright. I simply needed to be in a position to brandish my letters later in court as proof of my argument. The law loves lawyers who raise paper tigers. It’s how the system works.

I didn’t stop with Terrence, though. I also took shots at the police and coroner for malfeasance and incompetence. I demanded an investigation and that the toxicology report be produced. There is little chance my letter will prompt any response from either organization. If harsh words were all that was required to produce results, every bureaucratic agency would be at the forefront of efficiency and effectiveness.

I won’t hold my breath. If the report exists, it will take more than letters to find it. And since I don’t have the luxury of time, I turn my attention to the other problem in my case. Motive.

When Terrence was here last week, he let slip the news that Danny was being investigated for fraud. I asked Katrina about it, but she always tells me the same thing, she knows nothing. She didn’t know Danny did drugs. She says Danny never talked about his business interests with her. She was just his girlfriend. She never pried, and he never shared. Katrina thinks Danny didn’t want to trouble her with his problems. He was so sweet. They were so in love. And blah, blah, fucking blah. I don’t know if any of that’s true, but I don’t have time to waste on Danny’s girlfriend. She may be my client but other than filing the claim, she is next to useless in my fight against First National.

That leaves Vivian as my primary witness. She didn’t seem to know much more than Katrina about Danny’s troubles or his personal life, but as his business partner, I’m hoping she can give me some insight into the alleged fraud theory. When I first met with her, she never mentioned Danny’s trouble with the law, but perhaps like Katrina, Danny never told her.

When I called her yesterday to ask about it, she seemed hesitant to talk to me on the phone. She asked me if I would be able to drop out today before closing to see her. A part of me wonders whether her invitation is a come-on or simply a convenience. I’ve spent all day thinking about it, and I keep telling myself it’s innocent. I remember reading once that men are prone to misinterpret a woman’s friendly cues as a sexual come-on, and that even the slightest female interest will spark their sexual fantasies. In my case, that cognitive distortion is amplified by the fact that I haven’t been romantic with a woman in more than eighteen months. At this point, I’m not sure I wouldn’t confuse a handshake as an invitation to something more. It’s ridiculous. Obviously, she’s working and trying to be helpful, and my going to see her will be less disruptive to her day. Nothing more. Not to mention that seeing Ashley last night has stirred my emotions and made it impossible for me to think about starting anything with anyone else.

No, I am sure Vivian is being friendly and nothing more. I need her help, and she agreed. No need for it to be more complicated than that. Plus, if she’s helping me, she isn’t helping Terrence. And that makes it more difficult for him to prove his suicide theory. And that is a win for me and all the more reason for me to hop in my car and drive out and see her.

It’s four-thirty, and traffic is light. It’s another warm day, but I’m not complaining. I exit the highway at Terry Fox and roll down my window to take in the breeze. The sun is shining in my eyes after I make the turn onto Palladium Drive. I adjust my visor and mirror to see better, and that’s when I notice the unmarked black police car behind me.

I don’t like cops as a rule. I’m sure there are some nice ones, just as I’m sure there are some nice lions and tigers and bears. All the same, I’d prefer to keep them at a distance from me and preferably in a place with lots of other people around for them to prey on and eat. I’m a person who likes to get lost in crowds. I like to be inconspicuous.

My hands tense on the wheel, and I ease up on the accelerator. I’ve done nothing wrong, but that does nothing to ease my anxiety. The Helping Hand building is down further on Palladium, but that’s also in the same direction as the cop shop, which may be where this cop is going. I’m sure it is nothing, but I can’t shake my anxiety and decide to take the long way around.

As I approach the next intersection with Silver Seven, I move to the left turning lane. The cop follows me over. Fuck. That can’t be coincidence. The light is red at the intersection, and we are all stopped waiting to make the turn. I glance casually into my rearview mirror but can’t make out anything in the cop car except the vague shape of a person. The light changes, and I follow the cars around the corner heading south toward Maple Grove. Silver Seven is lined with high-tech companies occupying large factory buildings and having controlled parking lots. There’s nowhere for me to pull in that won’t require a security pass to get through the gate. I keep driving. At the corner of Maple Grove and Silver Seven is the Bell Sensplex, a hockey arena and training facility. At this hour, there will be plenty of parents dropping off their kids for practice. As I get to the corner, I make the decision to pull into the parking lot. If I’m lucky, the cop will keep going.

No sooner do I put on my signal light to make the right into the Sensplex when I hear the siren and the flash of red lights. Fucking hell. I make the turn and move over to the left next to a stand of trees. I stop and put it in park. The cop pulls up behind me. I don’t know what this is all about. My car is older but not falling apart. My license is valid. I haven’t had a ticket in years. The car is insured. My plates are current. I’m certain I’ve done nothing wrong, but that doesn’t stop my heart from beating like a base drum in my chest. I sit there and wait for the cop to get out and tell me what’s happening. Speaking of important people wasting your time, is there anything more aggravating than sitting in your car waiting for the fucking cop to get out of theirs?

My window is still down, the air feels hotter now, but I know that’s just my imagination. I grab my registration and insurance slips out of the center console and sit and wait for this to be over. I’m trying to be cool and casual, as though I even know how.

I hear the door of the car open, and I watch in the side mirror as a booted foot emerges, followed by a large man in full police regalia. I can’t see his face. He adjusts his gun belt, puts a hat on his head, and starts moving slowly toward me. He pauses at the trunk, his face is turned slightly as though he is considering something at the back of my car before he continues forward and stands next to the driver’s door mirror. He’s standing in the glare of the sun and filling the view through the window with his body. I still can’t see his face. He makes no attempt to lean down.

“Step out of the vehicle, please,” he says.

Something is definitely not right. I’ve never been asked to get out of my car before during a traffic stop. But it isn’t like I can say no. I open my door and step out.

“Turn around and put your hands on the roof of your car,” he says.

“Officer,” I say, “there must be some mistake. Can you tell me—”

But the cop isn’t listening.

“Sir, I need you to turn around and put your hands on the car.”

He takes a step forward, pushing the car door into my hip. I have to take a step back to avoid being hit as the door closes.

“Sir,” he says. “I’m not going to ask you again. Turn around and—“

There’s something about his voice.

“Ray,” I say, “is that you?”

He doesn’t respond. Instead, he advances on me in two quick steps and smashes his fist into my stomach. I double over and fall to one knee. I struggle to breathe. He looms over me like a mountain blocking out the sun. I watch as he sweeps his head from left to right, surveying the area for any witnesses. But I know from the way we have both parked that no one can see shit. That’s what he intended. This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all.

As if reading my mind, he looks down and leers. I can’t quite make out the rest of his expression, but it doesn’t matter because he reaches out and yanks me up by my shoulder. I struggle to regain my balance but never get the chance. He lands another punch. It’s like being hit in the chest with a bowling ball and trying to breathe through cement with a straw. I double over again. I’m not a street fighter. I’m no Karate Kid. But I figure I’m going to die if I don’t start making something of myself in this brawl. So I ball my fist and lunge at him with as much power as I can manage. It isn’t enough. This isn’t a fucking movie. I’ve telegraphed my punch like a mime painting an imaginary wall. He doesn’t have to work very hard to stand out of the way. He lets gravity do the rest. I’m on my stomach when I feel the first splash of liquid hitting my head. I panic and think he must be pissing on me, but as I flip myself over onto my back, I realize it’s just gin. He’s dumping a bottle all over.

“What the fuck,” I yell, but it does me no good.

“On your fucking feet, ya whino,” he says with a grin.

I’m angry now. Filled with adrenaline. I scramble to get on my feet and try for another swing. But it doesn’t matter. This time he moves in and smashes his knee into my face sending me backward. My head ricochets with a crack off the side of my car, and I am on the ground again, looking at blue sky. I raise myself up slowly to look at him. He’s still grinning at me. He hasn’t even broken a sweat. He adjusts his belt, straightens his cap.

“Get up,” he says. “And put your hands on the car. I won’t ask you again.”

I hold my hands up defensively and clamber to my feet. I am moving slowly, too slowly for Fisk. He steps forward, and I brace myself for another knee to the face but instead he grabs me by my jacket, spins me around, and pushes me into the door. He kicks my feet apart, his boot cracking my anklebone and sending a shock of pain through my leg. I’d fall down if he wasn’t holding me up.

“Stand still,” he growls. “Put your hands on the roof of the car.”

“Fisk,” I say again, trying to talk sense to him.

“It’s Sergeant Fisk,” he snaps. “And you best shut the fuck up if you don’t want me running you in for drunk driving, ya fucking whino.”

He shoves me against the car. I can’t take any more abuse. I reluctantly put my hands on the roof. He knees the back of my leg, which causes me to yelp in pain. His boot lashes out again at my foot. I feel like he has broken my ankle. He grabs my right arm and twists it behind my back. I feel the pinch as he snaps a cuff in place. He repeats the process on my other wrist. Satisfied that he now has me locked, he holds me solidly by the cuffs with one hand and snaps my head into the roof with the other. The pain is searing. My eyes water. He leans in, his mouth pressed to my ear.

“You ain’t so tough now are ya,” he says.

“Fisk, what are you—” I say.

He doesn’t let me finish. He bounces my head off the car again. I can’t see through the tears. My ears are ringing.

“You ain’t so tough now are ya, Mr. Big shot,” he says. “What’dya think, working with Eddie Finn and his girl would make you a big shot, is that it, huh? Is that it? A real fucking super star?”

He punches me in the side of the chest. I feel something snap. Probably a rib. Maybe more than one. I can hardly breathe.

“You think you got connections and can throw your weight around now, is that it?” he says.

“Ray,” I say. My jaw hurts. Everything hurts. “I dunno what you’re talking about. What connections?”

He kicks me in the ankle again. Jams me harder into the door.

“Ray,” I say again. “Seriously, what’re you talking about?”

I’m not sure he’s listening. I’m not sure I’m saying anything at all. Maybe it’s all in my head. Not like I can see or hear much of anything at this point.

“You tell fucking Eddie Finn I ain’t afraid of him,” he says as he slams his fist into my chest again. “You tell him that if I so much as hear him fart, I will burn his robot factory to the fucking ground with him, you, and his fucking girlfriend in it. Understand?”

He shoves me hard into the car.

“And if you send any more goddamn letters to the brass calling me a criminal I will see to it that you never walk again.”

“Ray,” I say. “I don’t—“

He twists on the cuffs and forces my wrists to bend upwards. I have to stand on my toes to keep my arms from being torn out.

“You think I’m fucking stupid, huh?” he says.

“I—“

He twists harder. The pain is excruciating.

“You think I dunno you’re working for Eddie and his girl? Is that it, huh? Well, you tell fucking Eddie that Raymond Fisk ain’t afraid of him. You tell him that he’ll need to do more than send me lawyer letters if he wants a piece of me. If he wants to come at me again he better hope he fucking knocks me down dead. Cause if he don’t I will fucking end him. And you.”

He snaps my head against the car roof again, only slightly less forcefully this time. I’m about to pass out from the pain. He unsnaps the cuffs and tells me to stand there. He says something about running me in for drunk driving, but I struggle to focus. I wonder vaguely whether he even remembers me. It’s a strange thing to fixate on.

My nose is bleeding, my ears are ringing, and my body feels like it has been snapped in half like a twig. He leaves me standing there and walks back to his car. I can’t stand up any longer and slide down to my ass and lean against my car. He’s in no hurry. He doesn’t look back at me. He climbs into his car, kills the lights, throws it in gear, and drives away.

Fucking hell. Fucking Eddie. Fucking Vivian. What the hell have I gotten myself into?

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