Chapter Twelve

Melvin Hutcherson was a short, balding man with a tiny button nose and washed-out pale blue eyes. He had a shabby suite of offices on the West Side that reeked of poverty. The receptionist's desk was empty.

"Gone to lunch," Melvin Hutcherson explained.

Jennifer wondered if he had a secretary. He ushered her into his private office, which was no larger than the reception office.

"You told me over the phone you wanted to talk about Connie Garrett."

"That's right."

He shrugged. "There's not that much to talk about. We sued and we lost. Believe me, I did a bang-up job for her."

"Did you handle the appeal?"

"Yep. We lost that, too. I'm afraid you're spinning your wheels." He regarded her a moment. "Why do you want to waste your time on something like this? You're hot. You could be working on big money cases."

"I'm doing a friend a favor. Would you mind if I looked at the transcripts?"

"Help yourself," Hutcherson shrugged. "They're public property."

Jennifer spent the evening going over the transcripts of Connie Garrett's lawsuit. To Jennifer's surprise, Melvin Hutcherson had told the truth: He had done a good job. He had named both the city and the Nationwide Motors Corporation as co-defendants, and had demanded a trial by jury. The jury had exonerated both defendants.

The Department of Sanitation had done its best to cope with the snowstorm that had swept the city that December; all its equipment had been in use. The city had argued that the storm was an act of God, and that if there was any negligence, it was on the part of Connie Garrett.

Jennifer turned to the charges against the truck company. Three eyewitnesses had testified that the driver had tried to stop the truck to avoid hitting the victim, but that he had been unable to brake in time, and the truck had gone into an unavoidable spin and had hit her. The verdict in favor of the defendant had been upheld by the Appellate Division and the case had been closed.

Jennifer finished reading the transcripts at three o'clock in the morning. She turned off the lights, unable to sleep. On paper, justice had been done. But the image of Connie Garrett kept coming into her mind. A girl in her twenties, without arms or legs. Jennifer visualized the truck hitting the young girl, the awful agony she must have suffered, the series of terrible operations that had been performed, each one cutting away parts of her limbs. Jennifer turned on the light and sat up in bed. She dialed Melvin Hutcherson's home number.

"There's nothing in the transcripts about the doctors," Jennifer said into the telephone. "Did you look into the possibility of malpractice?"

A groggy voice said, "Who the fuck is this?"

"Jennifer Parker. Did you - "

"For Christ's sake! It's - it's four o'clock in the morning! Don't you have a watch?"

"This is important. The hospital wasn't named in the suit. What about those operations that were performed on Connie Garrett? Did you check into them?"

There was a pause while Melvin Hutcherson tried to gather his thoughts. "I talked to the heads of neurology and orthopedics at the hospital that took care of her. The operations were necessary to save her life. They were performed by the top men there and were done properly. That's why the hospital wasn't named in the suit."

Jennifer felt a sharp sense of frustration. "I see."

"Look, I told you before, you're wasting your time on this one. Now why don't we both get some sleep?"

And the receiver clicked in Jennifer's ear. She turned out the light and lay back again. But sleep was farther away than ever. After a while, Jennifer gave up the struggle, arose and made herself a pot of coffee. She sat on her sofa drinking it, watching the rising sun paint the Manhattan skyline, the faint pink gradually turning into a bright, explosive red.

Jennifer was disturbed. For every injustice there was supposed to be a remedy at law. Had justice been done in Connie Garrett's case? She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was six-thirty. Jennifer picked up the telephone again and dialed Melvin Hutcherson's number.

"Did you check out the record of the truck driver?" Jennifer asked.

A sleepy voice said, "Jesus Christ! Are you some kind of crazy? When do you sleep?"

"The driver of the utility truck. Did you check out his record?"

"Lady, you're beginning to insult me."

"I'm sorry," Jennifer insisted, "but I have to know."

"The answer is yes. He had a perfect record. This was his first accident."

So that avenue was closed. "I see." Jennifer was thinking hard.

"Miss Parker," Melvin Hutcherson said, "do me a big favor, will you? If you have any more questions, call me during office hours."

"Sorry," Jennifer said absently. "Go back to sleep."

"Thanks a lot!"

Jennifer replaced the receiver. It was time to get dressed and go to work.


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