March 5, 2023

Double Bubble Chapter 14: The Trocar Method

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

A few years ago, a former colleague and I were forced to suffer through a ten-week jury trial with a lawyer who couldn’t seem to grasp the part he had to play in the melodrama that was unfolding in the courtroom.

He was acting for a woman whose husband had died while allegedly shaving his scrotum in the bathtub with a barber’s electric hair trimmer. Apparently, his understanding of electricity and water was limited, and the woman felt very strongly that disaster might have been averted if a satisfactory label had been put on the trimmer.

As it happens, and contrary to popular belief, it is extremely difficult in the modern home to electrocute yourself with an appliance, water, and a bathtub. Just as it is no longer feasible to kill yourself with a hose, a car, and a garage, time and technology have retired these death traps to the dustbins of history.

It was our theory that the couple may have been engaged in other sporting activities in the bathtub, and his heart gave out from the exertion. The hair trimmer only became implicated when the wife thought it might be fun to shake down the insurance company.

But I digress. The point is that the woman’s lawyer spent much of the trial calling medical professionals as witnesses, who were then asked to flip to random passages in their records and charts and to read those passages of medical jargon endlessly to the jury. It didn’t matter much to the lawyer that none of the passages being read were at all relevant to his case or to the outcome of the trial. Day after day, more doctors would turn up for storytime. And each successive day caused the jury to become angrier and angrier.

And so it was that during the fifth or the sixth or maybe it was the eighth day of doctors flipping to random pages and reading random passages, a particularly dull doctor turned up to read one particularly dull bit of bunk about a medical device called a trocar.

Now, if you have never heard of a trocar, have no idea how a trocar is used, or what the fuck a trocar has to do with a man who allegedly electrocuted himself with hair trimmers while shaving in a bathtub, you are in good company because neither did the jury.

It seems the lawyer thought if he jumped around enough among the medical records and talked to enough medical doctors, sooner or later, he would find a map directing him to his legal theory and, quite possibly, to his point. The strategy failed.

Eventually, the jury grew tired of his constant search for meaning among the medicals and wrote a note to the judge asking her — no begging her — to have the lawyer sit down and shut up. She relayed the message to the lawyer, the lawyer thanked her and the jury for their comment, persisted with his strategy, and eventually lost the case.

That, my friend, is the trocar method of trial advocacy. And until yesterday afternoon, it was the method I was self-evidently employing to investigate Danny’s death. Poking and prodding, and wandering aimlessly in the garden of my ignorance, looking for evidence that would prove Danny’s death was an accident. Only instead of receiving a jury’s note to tell me I was wasting my time, the message had to be beaten into me by a particularly violent brute named Raymond Fisk.

The beating by Fisk broke one of my ribs, making it more difficult to breathe. The doctor at the Queensway Carleton Hospital prescribed painkillers and bed rest, but I don’t have time for either. I have work to do. The beating hurt, but not half as much as learning that Eddie has been playing me from the start. My body is bruised, but not half as much as my ego.

I’m sitting at my desk and staring at the wall. I’m still not sure I understand Fisk’s violent reaction to my letter. He’s always been an unstable man, but his violent response is excessive even for him. His reaction confirms my suspicion that he and Terrence have buried the report. It is doubtful I will ever find it. But Fisk’s revelation that Eddie and Vivian are a couple has forced me to reconsider everything I have learned about the case.

If Eddie and Vivian are a couple, it strikes me as implausible that he didn’t know Danny personally, and that means he also probably knew Jean before I called him that morning. If Eddie and Danny had been friends, that would certainly explain his insistence at lunch that I get Jean the money from the policy. It would also explain his insistence that I accept as fact Jean’s theory that Danny had been murdered.

Murder still strikes me as a fanciful theory of what happened to Danny, but, in light of Eddie’s involvement in Danny’s life, I would be crazy to dismiss it entirely. My only doubt is that Katrina had any involvement.

I drag the police photos out of my drawer and lay them on the desk in front of me. I’ve looked at these photos hundreds of times since Jean gave them to me but never with any serious thought of murder. If Eddie did murder Danny, and that still seems like a large leap, the questions I need to answer are how and why?

The how seems easy enough, someone forced Danny to overdose on ecstasy. Only I don’t have a toxicology report, and my own expert has more or less ruled out death by overdose. Or at least has ruled out overdose as a mechanism for suicide. Perhaps Collis would have a different opinion if he knew someone force-fed Danny the pills to kill him. But for there to be a murder, there has to be a motive. Why would Eddie want to kill Danny? And kill him in such a bizarre way?

I stare at each photo, looking for any clue that Danny was murdered. I flip through the stack three times before tossing them on my desk. I go back to staring at the wall. If there’s something to be found, I don’t see it. Why would someone murder a guy while he was wearing panties on his head? And that’s when another question clangs in my head like a bell.

Whose panties were on Danny’s head? I had always assumed they were store-bought, part of Danny’s professional toolkit, like the tube tied around his balls, and the cameras he used to make his videos. But what if the panties belonged to Vivian? What if Danny and Vivian were having an affair, and Eddie found out? Is that why Fisk was so angry? Because he thought Eddie was involved in Danny’s death and had hired me to help him get away with it? Is that why Eddie so readily accepted Jean’s theory that Danny was murdered and why he was so insistent that I pin the murder on Katrina?

I pick up the photos again and look at them, trying to piece together what actually happened the day Danny died. What else am I not seeing? The police confirm Vivian found Danny dead. But what if she had been in the apartment with Danny before he died? What if they had been engaged in some perverse sex thing, and Eddie had found them? What if Eddie had caught them and gone ballistic? Would Eddie have killed Danny?

And what about Vivian? I’m assuming it was Eddie, but maybe she killed Danny? When I met her, she had denied being involved with Danny, but she could have lied. She was pretty emotional about Danny’s death, but that could have been an act. She did seem shocked to learn that Danny had a girlfriend. Maybe she found out about Danny and Katrina and killed him in jealousy? Maybe the panties and tube were just a part of the sex thing before she forced ecstasy down his throat?

This all seems incredibly far-fetched. I don’t know what to believe anymore. I’m not exactly equipped to solve a murder. If it wasn’t for Eddie putting pressure on me to pin a murder on Katrina, I would put my head in the sand and ignore all of these possibilities. But maybe if I can prove Eddie or Vivian killed Danny, I can be paid on the policy and get Eddie off my back.

I’m mulling that over when I hear the outside door open and look at my watch. At least Katrina is punctual. Without Vivian’s evidence to rely on, I called Katrina to drop by the office to swear her affidavit. I wish I had stronger evidence to challenge the Terror’s theory of debt and fraud, but I will have to make do. I move around my desk and walk out to the main reception area.

Katrina has the same serious expression on her face and that same uninhibited attitude. It’s like she doesn’t have a care in the world, as unblemished as a drop of water. Her eyes take in the lobby with indifference. When she looks at me, I expect a smile, but I am met with that same indifference. I’m not accustomed to being so easily dismissed, no more interesting to her than the furniture.

“Let’s sit in my office,” I say.

I turn and walk back to my desk. I hear her heels tapping the floor as she moves. It’s a pleasant sound. I imagine her and Danny together and then immediately regret it. I shouldn’t be thinking of my client that way.

When she gets to my door, she stops. She sweeps her eyes around my office, inspecting it, before moving to sit in the chair across from me. I can’t tell whether she’s impressed or disgusted. She crosses her legs and sits back to look at me.

“Thanks for dropping by,” I say. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

She stares at me for a half beat too long. It’s a disciplinary stare. It’s uncomfortable.

“You certainly weren’t lying,” she says.

“About?” I say.

“Not being a fancy man,” she says.

Her eyes are fixed on mine. I blush like a schoolboy and swallow hard. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say.

“Well,” she says. “Where is it?”

It takes me a second to realize that I’ve been staring at her stupidly. I shake my head.

“Sorry,” I say. “Where’s what?”

“You did say you wanted me to swear an affidavit?”

“Yes,” I say. “Of course.”

I grab the affidavit from the printer beside my desk and hand it to her. She starts reading, and I pretend to busy myself with other things. The affidavit isn’t long or complicated. She reads it silently. When she’s done, she sets it down on my desk and looks at me.

“Have you found it,” she says.

“What?” I say.

“The report,” she says.

“Report,” I say, trying to keep up.

“The toxicology report,” she says. “Have you found it?”

“Not yet,” I say.

“I see,” she says.

She picks up the affidavit again and starts absently thumbing the pages and curling the corners with her fingers.

“Do you expect,” she says, fixing me with her eyes, “to find the report under your desk or hidden in a drawer here in the office?”

I stare at her. She stares at me. It’s like being on the playground again. We’re having a staring contest. Only her eyes bore into mine. I swallow again.

“I don’t —” I start to say, but she interrupts me.

“Mr. Frost,” she says. “You are still trying to win my case?”

I nod.

“And do you expect to do that sitting here in your office all day?”

“Listen,” I say. “I’ve been —”

“Yes,” she says, interrupting me again but still staring at me intently.

“— out looking for answers,” I say.

I don’t know why I need to defend myself to her. I shift uneasily in my chair. She makes me uncomfortable. Like I’m a schoolboy being scolded by his teacher.

“I see,” she says. “And did you get hit by a bus while you were out?”

“Yes,” I say. “As a matter of fact, I did. Only the bus you’re talking about was called Fisk.”

She studies my face and grimaces.

“And what exactly is a Fisk?” she says, as though we are discussing fine art or wine.

“Who,” I say.

“Pardon me,” she says.

“Who,” I say again. “Fisk is a person not a thing.”

She purses her lips. She’s annoyed.

“And who,” she says, emphasizing the who like a kid playing at being an owl, “is Fisk?”

“He’s a very volatile man who also happens to be a police sergeant.”

“Ah,” she says with a nod. “And you think this police sergeant has the report?”

I shake my head and look past her to the wall.

“Honestly,” I say. “I don’t know what to think. I mean he is pals with Terrence and he certainly has a history —“

“With the fancy man,” she says.

“Huh,” I say, bringing my eyes back to hers.

“You said he’s friends with—“

“Terrence,” I say.

Her face reddens, and her lips tighten. She’s fine doing the interrupting but doesn’t much care to be interrupted.

“Yes,” she says. “The fancy man. They have a history together?”

“That’s right,” I say. “They have a history of doctoring reports. Of hiding reports. They have a history of questionable behaviour.”

She recrosses her legs. They’re nice legs. I try not to stare.

“And you had a run in with this sergeant,” she says.

“With his fist,” I say. “Yes, you could say that.”

“I see,” she says. “And you came up short?”

Her eyes twinkle and linger on mine. I blush.

“Not short,” I say, defending myself. “It wasn’t exactly a fair fight. He’s a cop. And quite a big man.”

“I see,” she says. “And you’re not?”

“Not a cop,” I say.

“Not a big man,” she says.

I can feel the heat rise to my cheeks. I swallow and look down at her legs again. I blush even redder. I can’t look her in the eyes. She smirks.

“So, should I be worried,” she says.

“Worried,” I say.

I look up at her. She’s eying me, amusement plays on the corners of her lips.

“Yes,” she says. “Worried.”

I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. She recrosses her legs. Leans forward slightly in her chair. She watches me for a moment before shaking her head slightly.

“I hired you Mr. Frost,” she says, “believing you were a man capable of fighting for me.”

“I assure you —” I start to say, but she isn’t done.

“I do not have time for weak men. Little men. I need a strong man. A big man. A man who can rise up and take care of…things,” she says. “I have no use for a man who shrivels…under pressure.”

Fucking hell. I’m not even sure what we’re talking about anymore.

“I assure you,” I say again. “I rise up fine. I have never had any complaints. Everything is under control.”

She’s still staring at me, but I can’t hold her gaze. I turn to my computer and fiddle with the keyboard. I clear my throat self-consciously. Shake my head. I turn back to her and point at the affidavit in her hand. The pages are curled.

“Did you want me to make any changes,” I say. “If not, I’ll print a new copy for you to sign. We should get it over to Terrence and his team today.”

She looks down at her hands. Shuffles the pages. She furrows her brow.

“At the first paragraph,” she says. “You wrote that I’m a florist.”

I nod and wait. She looks at me like I’m stupid. Clearly, I’m missing the point.

“But I’m not,” she says.

“Not what,” I say. “A florist?”

“Botanist,” she says.

“You’re not a botanist?” I say.

“I am a botanist,” she says, “I’m not a florist.”

“But you run a flower shop,” I say. “I—“

“I do not run a flower shop,” she says. “I own a botany shop.”

“There’s a difference,” I say.

“Yes,” she snaps, her eyes furious. “There’s a difference. A flower shop sells flowers. Most often to men.”

“And you don’t sell flowers?” I say.

She glares at me.

“No,” she says. “Or at least not to men.”

“You don’t sell flowers to men?” I say, trying to stay ahead of her craziness.

“I don’t sell flowers at all,” she says. “But most certainly not to men. Men use flowers as a tool to placate women, to mollify women, to pacify women. A man who gives his woman flowers does so to apologize for being inadequate, or for being pathetic, or for being a disappointment. And—“

“So you don’t like flowers,” I say, trying to redirect the conversation before she explodes.

“No,” she says with a shake of her head. “I like flowers fine. I actually grow and cultivate flowers.”

“So you are a florist,” I say. “But you don’t sell flowers to men.”

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I don’t sell flowers to limp, forlorn men who mistake the cliche of giving flowers to a woman as an act of true romance. The idea of doing so offends me.”

Her gaze makes it clear that I’m one of the limp, forlorn men she is speaking of when she speaks of a man having the audacity to give flowers to a woman. So be it. Guilty as charged. Not the limp part. But I admit I’ve given a lady flowers on occasion, although never to apologize. Perhaps it is cliche. Still, I’ve never had a woman complain, and I’ve never considered it an insult to them. But then, I’m not a resident of crazy town.

“So you’re a botanist,” I say, still trying to refocus the conversation.

“Yes,” she says.

“And so you—“

“I grow and cultivate plants. I mix and match and experiment with different kinds and conditions.”

“I see,” I say. “So you’re like a mad scientist and your shop is like a kind of laboratory?”

I immediately regret my choice of words. But she doesn’t seem offended. In fact, she smiles.

“Yes,” she says. “I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

“And so you market and sell these new plants…”

She shakes her head.

“I don’t sell plants. Not directly, anyway. I extract their power…their medicinal and herbal qualities and characteristics, and then I patent the compounds and mixtures and sell those instead.”

So she’s a granola. That certainly explains a lot. I turn to my computer and start editing her affidavit. I delete the word florist as her occupation. I consider replacing that with mad scientist but don’t. I type in botanist instead. The next sentence is about her relationship with Danny.

“While I’m thinking of it,” I say, “how long were you and Danny dating before he died? I didn’t—“

“Why do you need to know that,” she says.

I look over at her, puzzled by her question.

“It helps ground your relationship with Danny and builds sympathy. It—“

“And you think sympathy will make a difference,” she says.

“It can’t hurt,” I say.

“Do you always reduce your female clients to emotional snowflakes trolling for sympathy?” she says.

“I am not—“

“Spare me your emotional cliches, Mr. Frost,” she says. “I’m not interested in playing the part.”

I stare at her silently for a minute. I don’t want to make the situation worse. The last thing I need is for her to pop a gasket and start yelling and screaming at me again. One beating per day is my rule.

“I understand you’re uncomfortable talking about it,” I say. “But cases like this hinge on sympathy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s all the same. A judge wants to help someone they sympathize with, and that means telling them something about your relationship with Danny, the love you felt for one another, the pain you are suffering now that he’s gone. If the judge thinks you are all about the money, or that Danny’s death was a windfall, it’s all over.”

“You’re a very emotional man, aren’t you?” she says. “You and Danny had a lot in common. He was sensitive too. A small, sensitive man…”

She shakes her head. Clearly, she doesn’t mean it as a compliment. I’ve never had a woman call me sensitive before. I don’t know if I should be hurt or happy, so I say nothing.

“No matter,” she says. “I am not interested in currying sympathy with a judge. I’m not interested in being type cast as another distraught woman, saddened by the death of her man. You’ve already described my relationship with Danny. You’ve already described that we were in love. I don’t see that we need to go further than that. Now—“

“How about,” I say, searching for middle ground, “we add in how shocked you were when you found out he was dead. You were, right?”

Her eyes flash. I’ve hit a nerve. Her facade slips. Her face isn’t quite so placid and calm.

“Yes,” she says quietly, her lips pulled tight.

She looks away, but I have the sense it’s a forced reaction. A show. She’s like a bad actress in an afternoon soap opera. She’s playing a part. She’s hiding something. I don’t know what it is, so I switch tack.

“What can you tell me about Vivian,” I say.

“Vivian,” she says in mock confusion, her eyes shining. “You mean his business partner?”

“I think you told me you knew each other,” I say.

“No,” she says. “I never told you that.”

She’s tense. She’s gone back to fidgeting with the affidavit again. I press on.

“But you knew she was the one who found Danny, right?” I say.

She looks at me, she’s struggling to regain her composure. Her disinterest. She leans forward a bit.

“Yes,” she says. “You told me she found Danny. You said it was in the police records.”

“That’s right,” I say.

I avert my eyes and look at the wall behind her. I want to ask her if she thought Danny was having an affair, but I’m not sure how. It could set her off. She’s staring at me calmly now, back to being indifferent.

“Do you think they were…”

“…fucking,” she says with a chuckle, as though she had been waiting for me to ask.

I nod.

“No,” she says. “No. Danny was too pathetic. He was too timid to make that kind of move. He told me that he and Vivian had never been together.”

“Romantically,” I say.

“Or sexually,” she says.

“So the panties on his head were—“

“Were mine,” she says.

“You’re sure,” I say.

Her eyes darken.

“Am I sure that my boyfriend died with my panties on his head,” she says. “Are you really asking me that?”

“I’m not trying to be—“

Her voice rises an octave. She’s angry.

“You think they were her panties, is that it?” she says.

“It occurred to me they might be, yes,” I say.

“And what if they were,” she says. “How could that possibly matter?”

“It’s probably nothing,” I say. “Never mind. Forget I said anything.”

“No,” she says. “No, no. You must have asked for a reason. I want to know why?”

“It was something Fisk said,” I say.

“The big man who beat you up,” she says, her voice tinged with anger and amusement.

“Yes,” I say. “He accused me of being in league with Vivian and her boyfriend Eddie Finn.”

I watch her intently. She doesn’t even blink.

“In league with Vivian,” she says. “Why would he think that. Doesn’t he know you work for me?”

“I would have thought so,” I say. “But I wondered whether maybe Vivian had played a part in Danny’s death. The panties—“

“Are mine,” she says forcefully. Her face reddens again. “I gave them to Danny as a present. He had a fetish. I wanted to express my feelings for him.”

“Better than flowers,” I say.

“Yes,” she snaps, her voice high and loud. “Danny and I had a unique and loving relationship. He was small and he was pathetic and he was mine. And so were the panties. Danny was timid and sweet. He wasn’t cheating on me. He wouldn’t have cheated on me. So if that’s what you’re suggesting—”

“I’m not suggesting anything,” I say.

She’s still glaring at me. Her face is still red with anger. She takes a deep breath, her shoulders rising with the effort. She closes her eyes. Settles her face back to its customary state of indifference. She opens her eyes again and looks at me.

“What does it matter anyway, “ she says. “Danny’s death was an accident. Even if I wasn’t sure he was wearing my panties, I can’t see how it changes what happened.”

I shake my head. I don’t even know why I brought it up.

“No,” I say. “I suppose not. I guess I thought maybe…”

“Maybe,” she says, watching me.

“Maybe Danny’s death wasn’t an accident,” I say.

“You mean murder,” she says.

I nod. I try to read anything in her face, but it is inscrutable. Serene. Apparently, the idea that Danny was murdered doesn’t warrant concern. Or shock. Or even interest. I’ve seen Canadians experience more alarm and agony discussing the weather than she seems to be experiencing at the news that Danny may have been murdered.

“Murder,” she says, calmly, “seems a touch overdramatic, Mr. Frost. You said it was an accident. The doctor told you that Danny—“

“Yes,” I say. “That Danny was…”

I look away.

“Don’t be shy, Mr. Frost,” she says. “You can say it. Danny was…”

“Masturbating,” I say.

I’m blushing again, my cheeks hot. All this blunt talk about sex and masturbation and unendowed men makes me uncomfortable.

“Yes,” she says. “He did that a lot. He was a small man who liked to play with himself. And it killed him. I don’t see why that means Vivian murdered him. She found him, true. But I don’t see how she could have killed him. It was an accident, that’s all. A stupid pointless accident.”

I look at her and smile. She’s right. All this talk of murder is pointless. It’s the trocar method. It won’t win this case. I need to stick to the plan. I need to prove it was an accident. I need to focus on destroying Terrence’s theory of suicide. I need to find the toxicology report. I need to ignore Eddie. I turn back to the computer and the affidavit.

“Any other changes,” I say.

“No,” she says. “That was it.”

“Excellent,” I say.

I print off the revised copy. She picks up a pen and signs it. That done, she stands up, says goodbye, and walks out the door.

After she’s gone, I scan the affidavit and send it over to Terrence. Then I pick up the phone and call the investigator at the Ontario Securities Commission. I still don’t know why Danny was being investigated for fraud, but if Eddie was involved, I can hazard a few guesses. But it is best to find out before attending the cross-examinations on Tuesday.

Until then, there’s not much more I can do.

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