Authors: William Deverell
Tags: #General Fiction
“Forgive my presumption.”
I would have pursued the matter but court was assembling, and this odd conversation was aborted.
In the spacious oak-panelled room, I found a seat on the front row with a view in profile, at the far side of the counsel table, of Sanford Whitaker, Q.C., grey-templed and lean, an
affected expression of boredom – letting us know this case is almost beneath his dignity. Victoria was behind him, as were two representatives of her publishing house, New Millennium Press.
Clinton Huff sat not far from me, at the near end of the counsel table, a determined set to his face as he neatly arranged a formidable array of legal texts.
Judge Betty Lafferty, a pleasant, unaffected woman in her mid-forties, caught my eye as she surveyed the room and smiled. That caused Huff to turn in my direction, with a look of curiosity if not suspicion.
Brovak was the last major actor to arrive, striding down the aisle with his briefcase, swinging it up on the table directly beside the mayor, crowding him. This brought about the first tussle of the day, as Huff asked, “Is this not the plaintiff’s side of the table?” Brovak merely responded with a grunt as he sat and brought out his files. The strategy was to be close and intimidating.
Huff rose to complain that this invasion of his territory was unfair. Lafferty listened politely, then just as politely urged Brovak to offer Huff more elbow room. “I think you should extend the courtesy, Mr. Brovak. It’s a small request, and he’s not represented.”
Brovak moved his kit a few feet, positioning himself almost in front of me. “Okay, but fair warning – just because he hasn’t got a lawyer, I’m not going to treat him with kid gloves.”
“I would never expect that of you, Mr. Brovak. However, I intend this to be a fair hearing.”
“Well, that’s good, if I take it you’re inferring that the court won’t be bending over backwards for any individual here.”
Huff wasn’t cowed. “I think
is the verb the learned counsel was seeking. My Lady, I’m well able to represent myself. I not only teach English, I can read English – as well as any lawyer, and perhaps better than many. The sum and substance of this trial is what is in a book.”
“Let us hope it will be as simple as that,” said Judge Lafferty. “Do you have an opening statement?”
“Yes, it is my position that the defendants were at worst malignantly purposeful and at best criminally negligent in incorporating me into a horror novel. I have several authorities here that speak of a duty of care in defamation cases.”
Lafferty’s eyes widened, perhaps in alarm, as he opened one of his texts. “This isn’t the time to make argument, Mr. Huff. We have to hear the evidence first.”
Brovak twisted toward me and said in a stage whisper, “This is right out of
Alice in Wonderland.”
Huff turned and caught Brovak, still facing me, point a finger to his head and twirl it.
“My Lady, before I continue, as a point of procedure, can I have the man identified with whom my learned friend was sharing a jest?”
Lafferty puzzled over the request for a moment. “That gentleman is Dr. Timothy Dare.”
“And what, pray, does he do?”
“He is a psychiatrist. I believe he’s also the son of the defendant, Victoria Dare.”
I presume Huff’s researches had told him something about me, though obviously he hadn’t seen my photograph. He seemed startled.
“A psychiatrist … yes. I note he isn’t sitting with his mother, and I would appreciate knowing if he’s here for any other purpose.”
“Mr. Huff, I think you should get on with your case.”
“The Rules of the Supreme Court state that I’ve a right to know who the opposite party’s witnesses are.” Clearly, he had primed himself in the law.
Lafferty’s politeness toward the plaintiff may have provoked this bluntness from Brovak: “Well, if you want to know, Mr. Huff, he’s here to analyze you from a mental point of view.”
Sanford Whitaker, Q.C., grimaced. Clinton Huff seemed indignant.
“I haven’t decided yet whether to call him as a witness,” Brovak said. “Right now, he’s just here to watch you.”
Victoria smiled at me and gave a triumphant nod.
Again, Huff was prompted to call his evidence. He glanced at me, then passed to the clerk a hardbound copy of
When Comes the Darkness
. “This is Exhibit One, and an audited statement from New Millennium for their last financial year will be Exhibit Two.” The combination of Brovak’s effrontery and my mere presence was having an effect: Huff’s voice was strained, his facial musculature tight. “I call as my first witness: me, Clinton W. Huff.”
He was facing me as he took the oath but avoided my eyes. “May I commence by pointing out I’ve been a secondary-school teacher for twenty years and have been twice elected mayor of Jackson Cove. In both capacities, and particularly among a number of students, I have been the subject of ridicule since this book was published. I will now read some of the iniquitous passages. May I see Exhibit One?”
He turned to a bookmarked page and cleared his throat. “‘Clint liked what he saw beaming back at him from the mirror. Yes, he was a jolly, suspender-slapping, beer-swigging, clap-on-the-shoulder kind of guy, well liked by the folks of Bogg Inlet’ – note the use of the proper noun, as in Jackson Cove, as well as the maritime connotation – ‘five years an alderman’ – in my case it was also five – ‘and now, after four failed elections, mayor.’ I won on my third try and have been re-elected.”
He saw me jotting notes on the back of an envelope and went into a throat-clearing stall. “Fourth try, if one were to count the federal election in which I ran. Excuse me, my Lady, but must Dr. Dare stare at me so rudely?”
“Try to ignore him, Mr. Huff.”
“Yes. Page twenty-seven. ‘Clint had a special date tonight’ – and by the way I, too, am a bachelor – ‘so he figured he’d put on one of his good suits, the one with the bold check’ – I
happen to own such a suit. And farther down, ‘He always liked to smell good on his dates, so he slavered his face’ – I suspect
is the correct word, even for this colloquial manner of composition – ‘with his favourite cologne, Chanel pour l’Homme, before going downstairs. When he put his ear to the trapdoor he could hear the woman wailing. “Don’t worry, my dear,” he called. “I’m coming.” ‘ I have a trapdoor in my house that leads to a root cellar.”
Huff carried on gamely, with frequent stops for water, reading these passages to a courtroom silent but for the soft thump of keys on the court reporter’s steno machine. From time to time, he’d flick a look my way. At one point, Brovak, sensing the curious energy flow between me and the plaintiff, pretended to confer with me, causing Huff to lose his place in the text. When he ran out of coincidences, he recited a bloodcurdling scene, a rape victim choked to death with a wire cord. He finally stalled when a spectator made a noisy exit from the gallery.
“You don’t need to read the whole book, Mr. Huff,” said Lafferty.
“This material goes to the issue of punitive damages. The Clint Huff pictured here isn’t merely a disreputable character, he is a sadistic monster. He obtains sexual release through murdering innocent women. Even the school principal asked me – thinking it was quite a joke – if I would be playing the part in the movie.”
“Well, that’s just it,” said Brovak, rising. “People who know you think it’s all a joke. No one takes it as intentional. No one sees you as a sadistic monster.”
“I was subjected to malicious gossip and humiliation. For Christmas my class gave me a bottle of Chanel pour l’Homme.”
Brovak boldly carried on, though he hadn’t been called upon to do so. “Where is Jackson Cove, Mr. Huff?”
“Do you want to answer counsel’s questions now?” the judge asked.
“Yes. I’ve nothing to hide. Jackson Cove is in the West Kootenays, on the shore of Arrow Lake.”
“How many people live there? “ Brovak asked.
“Three thousand, four hundred and fifteen.”
“And do any of these good folk think you’re a serial killer?”
“I would submit that the test is whether one is held out to opprobrium and ridicule.”
“Yeah, there was so much ridicule you were re-elected mayor two Novembers ago –
the book came out.”
“Yes, but in the meantime, someone went around stencilling
on my posters. It was ignominious.”
“I’ll give you another big word, Mr. Huff.” Brovak emphasized each syllable: “Coincidence.”
“Of course the defendants will fall back on that, but they were, at the very least, grossly negligent in not doing a name search.”
“They’re supposed to call every town in North America to see if there’s a Clinton Huff in it?”
“I am not unknown. I ran as an independent in a federal election. My name was in the newspapers, on television – not often, but a few times during the campaign. My photograph was shown on the CTV network, and the
did a feature article on me.”
Here was a man who’d never achieved the level of importance he felt was his due. But I felt something deeper was at work – his anxiety about psychiatrists argued that he kept secrets he didn’t want revealed. I noted how orderly were his files and binders and papers, two pens and three sharpened pencils lined in a perfect row. The language of tongue and body, as well, was marked by the rigidity of the obsessive-compulsive personality. I wrote on my envelope:
Neurotic camouflage? Fetish? Hiding shameful ritual?
I wasn’t expecting the effect this had on Huff.
“My Lady, may I be permitted to see what Dr. Dare is writing?”
“No, Mr. Huff.” Lafferty’s patience was finally waning.
Supreme Court Rules
state that I have a right of discovery of all written material.”
By this time I was feeling sorry for Huff, but paramount was my concern for my mother. If there was merit in the negligence argument, was she at risk? As a layperson, I wasn’t sure. So while the judge was explaining the law of discovery to Huff, I conferred with Brovak, suggesting a line of attack.
Thus armed, he began softly. “Mr. Huff, have you ever met Victoria Dare?”
“Are you aware of any reason – like maybe she never studied every loser’s name in the election results – that she might know your name?”
“I’m not privy to what she knows.”
“Well, Mr. Huff, Victoria Dare never heard of you. And you know what, I
heard of you. Nobody in this courtroom ever heard of you. In fact, I don’t think anyone outside Jackson Cove has heard of you.”
Huff’s voice broke. “Who do you think you are, impugning my name? I am a respectable person. I demand a little consideration!”
He might have been admonishing some miscreant in class. He was close to unravelling, and Lafferty must have seen this too, for she ordered the mid-morning break. Huff almost stumbled from the witness box.
The gallery slowly cleared, and Victoria signalled me to join her outside, pantomiming puffing a cigarette. I was about to join her but had a premonition Huff was standing nearby – perhaps it was his body heat, the smell of anxiety. I turned to find him staring at the note I had jotted:
Neurotic camouflage? Fetish? Hiding shameful ritual?
His expression can be best described as a soup of helplessness and fury. He was unable to look at me or speak. He retreated to his table, picked up his briefcase, and walked unsteadily from the courtroom.
Outside, I watched him move slowly down Carnarvon Street, his head bowed. Victoria demanded to know my thoughts about him, so I told her about the note, his reaction, and my hypothesis: Huff held some shameful secret that had little to do with being defamed in her book.
When he turned the corner, we presumed he was walking around the block, clearing his head, but that was the last we saw of Clinton W. Huff. He didn’t reappear after the recess, and a search party couldn’t find him. When court finally resumed, Judge Lafferty, despite urgings, declined to dismiss the action, and adjourned the trial
“or at least until the plaintiff can give some explanation for his sudden absence.”
The few reporters went off to write their stories. Brovak, mounting his Harley-Davidson, said, “Well, they’ve heard of him now.”
Likely, Allis, my guess that you had lost a patient through suicide stems from the fear that tormented me after Huff disappeared: I worried I’d driven him to take his life. But he’s surfaced in the Jackson Cove Hospital, where he’s being treated for stress problems. In the meantime, the publishers have withdrawn their offer of thirty thousand dollars. (I tried in vain to persuade Sanford Whitaker, Q.C., to pay it, to salvage some of the man’s pride.)
But I doubt that this chapter is closed. Clinton Huff took umbrage at the firearm registration law, so it is likely he’s among our armed citizenry. Have I made another mortal enemy? And there’s the consanguinity factor. Who is my Jackson Cove look-alike?
I passed through the place once, with Sally, on a camping trip in the Interior. A tourist town, a minor ski hill, a warm springs (so tepid that the local Chamber of Commerce can’t make false claims), and the funky old Jackson Cove Warm Springs Hotel. I read somewhere they’ve converted the main street to resemble a Swiss village: false-fronted shops, ornamented balconies. (A motif of my recent dreams: a coincidence?) The town is
perched on the western bank of Arrow Lake – about a hundred kilometres from Nelson, where Victoria begot me.
Do I dare go to Jackson Cove to probe the rumours of consanguinity? What confounding truths might be revealed?
I have determined that Tim is not religious, and he disdains psychic phenomena as “irrational folk legends.” So his talk about being subjected to the whim of divine spirits seems a form of avoidance.
I would not call this activity, which continued until she left the country, stalking.
Date of Interview: Friday, August 8, 2003
I had telephoned Tim on the weekend to tell him, in the event he needed to reach me, that I was taking a few days’ holiday but would be back in time to see him today. He acknowledged my need for a break, wished me a relaxing time, and suggested we cancel for this week. But I found him in my waiting room at about three p.m., looking forlorn. I had other patients, and I wasn’t able to see him until five o’clock. Afterwards, since I was free for the evening, I joined him for dinner.
I can’t say he’s suffered a severe relapse, but some of his earlier distracted thinking and erratic behaviour patterns have re-emerged. There have been several significant stressors: another hand-printed note with a threatening connotation, an extremely odd “therapeutic” session with his patient Vivian Lalonde, a difficult encounter with the professional discipline committee, and, just yesterday, his regular appointment with Bob Grundison.
Outweighing all this, however, is the absence of Sally Pascoe, who left a week ago for Munich. He has received what he calls a “profound message” in a greeting card she e-mailed him from an Internet café in Switzerland. He continues to have problems
coping with being alone, and – a step forward, finally-has realized how much she kept his home and social life organized. He is now paying more than lip service to his admission that he took her for granted. Indeed, he seems almost lost without her. She aided him in a cluster of small ways, in grooming and appearance, going shopping with him for clothes, reminding him to wear a tie for court, ensuring his socks matched.
The challenge I’ve set for myself isn’t an easy one: I may be able to help him understand his possessiveness, the pressures he places on Sally, but does he have the will to change?