T is for Trespass - Page 107/144

I cruised through the repetitious early pages, where Ms. Buckwald worked to suggest that Brannigan was inexperienced and ill qualified, neither of which was true. Lowell Effinger objected at intervals, mostly intoning, “Misstates the prior testimony” or “Asked and answered” in a voice that, even on paper, sounded bored and annoyed. Effinger had tagged certain pages to make sure I didn’t miss the import. The gist of it was that, despite Ms. Buckwald’s persistently snide and wearing questions that cast aspersions on him wherever possible, Tilford Brannigan was steadfast in his insistence that Gladys Fredrickson’s injuries were inconsistent with the dynamics of the collision. There followed fourteen pages of testimony in which Ms. Buckwald picked away at him, trying to get him to yield on whatever minor point she was pursuing. Brannigan held up well, patient and unperturbed. His responses were mild, sometimes amusing, which must have infuriated Ms. Buckwald, who relied on friction and animosity to rattle a witness. If he conceded the smallest detail, she leaped on the admission as though it were a major triumph, completely undermining testimony he’d given before. I wasn’t sure whom she was trying to impress.

As soon as I’d read the file, I called Mary Bellflower, who said, “So what did you think?”

“I’m not sure. We know Gladys was injured. We have three inches of medical reports: X-ray results, treatment protocols, ultrasound, MRIs, X-rays. She might fake whiplash or a lower-back pain, but a cracked pelvis and two cracked ribs? Please.”

“Brannigan didn’t say she wasn’t injured. He’s saying the injuries weren’t sustained in the accident. By the time Millard ran into Lisa Ray pulling out of the parking lot, she was already hurt. Brannigan didn’t say so flat out, but that’s his guess.”

“What, like Millard beat the crap out of her or something like that?”

“That’s what we need to find out.”

“But her injuries were fresh, right? I mean, this wasn’t anything that’d happened weeks before.”

“Right. It could have happened prior to their getting in the van. Maybe he was taking her to the emergency room and he saw his chance.”

“Not to be dense about it, but why would he do that?”

“He had liability insurance, but no collision coverage. They’d dropped their home-owner’s policy because they couldn’t afford the premiums. No catastrophic medical, no long-term disability. They were totally exposed.”

“So he deliberately rammed into Lisa Ray’s car? That’s risky, isn’t it? What if Lisa had been killed? For that matter, what if his wife had been killed?”

“He wouldn’t have been any worse off. Might have been better for him actually. He could have sued for wrongful death or negligent homicide, half a dozen things. The point was to blame someone else and collect the dough instead of having to pay it out. He’d been badly injured himself and a jury awarded him $680,000. They’ve probably pissed it all away.”

“Jesus, that’s cold. What kind of guy is he?”

“Try desperate. Hetty Buckwald went after Brannigan tooth and nail and couldn’t get him to back down. Lowell said it was all he could do not to bust out laughing. He thinks this is big. Huge. We just have to figure out what it means.”

“I’ll go up there again. Maybe the neighbors know something we don’t.”

“Let’s hope.”

I returned to the Fredricksons’ neighborhood and started with the two neighbors directly across the street. Their knowledge, if any, probably wouldn’t come to much, but at least I could rule them out. At the first house, the middle-aged woman who answered the door was pleasant but professed to know nothing about the Fredricksons. When I explained the situation, she said she’d moved in six months before and preferred to keep her distance from her neighbors. “That way, if I have a problem with any one of them, I can complain without worrying about someone’s feelings being hurt,” she said. “I tend to my affairs and expect them to tend to theirs.”

“Well, I can see your point. I’ve had good luck with my neighbors until recently.”

“When neighbors turn on you, there’s nothing worse. Your home is supposed to be a refuge, not a fortified encampment in a war zone.”

Amen, I thought. I gave her my card and asked her to call me if she heard anything. “Don’t count on it,” she said, as she closed the door.

I went down her walkway and up the walk leading to the house next door. This time the occupant was a man in his late twenties, thin face, glasses, underslung jaw with a tiny goatee meant to give definition to his weak chin. He wore loose jeans and a T-shirt with horizontal stripes of the sort a mother would select.