The Friday Fillip: Misstep

For the next while the Friday Fillip will be a chapter in a serialized crime novel, interrupted occasionally by a reference you might like to follow up. Both this chapter of the book and the whole story up to this point can be had as PDF files. You may also subscribe to have chapters delivered to you by email.


Chapter 11

Louisa Cathcart chose to pace behind her desk as she instructed Rangel, who found herself wincing at each shaky step the woman took. “Cerebral palsy is not a disease.” Cathcart spoke aggressively from a turning point in her pacing.

“Yes,” said Rangel. “I understand.” Cathcart glared at her and Rangel found herself back in the principal’s office in grade ten. She could feel herself bridling. She had never been a good student — she thought “victim” — of militant teaching, but you didn’t last long in the courts if you weren’t prepared to accept all manner of roughness from the bench. Think “judge,” she told herself, and she cleared her face of all expression.

“It is a collection of conditions with a collection of causes. And if that sounds vague, it’s because it is. There are some commonalities. The conditions all have a neurological basis. And they mostly affect muscular coordination. Movement. The neurological condition is caused by an injury to the developing brain, whether in utero, perinatal, or in the first few years after birth.” Cathcart stopped her pacing and leaned on the back of her desk chair. “With me so far?”

Rangel permitted herself a small but firm nod. She could see Cathcart’s expression soften slightly. Obviously the woman was speaking out of a lifetime of difficulty and, likely, disrespect or, worse, pity. Rangel deliberately relaxed her posture. Cathcart pulled out her desk chair and sat. She took her arm out of the crutch and hooked the device over the edge of the desk, where it rocked slightly back and forth.

“Now it gets blurry again,” Cathcart said, with less of a lecturing tone. “Because the injury is to the brain, it can manifest itself in an almost unlimited number of ways. Of course, some fetal or early brain damage results in deficits that affect functions other than motor control, and so they can get classified differently. Not as cerebral palsy. But when it affects the ability to control muscles, we label it CP.

“We classify it by the number of limbs involved — monoplegia, one limb, typically an arm, though as you see it can be one leg; triplegia, if three limbs are involved; quadriplegia, and so forth. And then there’s the additional classification by the nature of the movement disorder. I, for example, have spastic CP, involving what’s called ‘co-contraction,’ where opposing sets of muscles are activated together, blocking fluid movement and causing, well, pain, weakness, and tremors. And there are other sorts of neurological interferences. Chorea is one that most people think of when they think of palsy, those sudden uncontrolled jerky movements.

“These dysfunctions — chorea, athetosis, ataxia — may be combined. They may affect gross motor functions, such as walking, or fine motor functions such as those involved in speech.” Here she stopped and took a deep breath. “You know,” she said in an almost confiding tone of voice, “it’s bad enough to confront society with a mobility dysfunction — and I mean bad, really bad — but if your speech is halting, slurred, or otherwise inarticulate, people take you for an idiot.” She looked to one side and thought for a moment. “Thank god for Stephen Hawking,” she said, almost to herself. “At least some people now understand that within a compromised body there can be a brilliant mind.”

Briskly, she turned to Rangel. “Your missing man,” she said, “what do you know of the degree of his impairment?”

“Nothing,” said Rangel. And she added, “As yet. I know he had difficulty using at least one of his hands, but from what his aunt has said, I think there was more. She seemed to feel he needed care, intermittently at least. And I gather his intelligence might have been affected as well. Is that possible?”

Cathcart said, “A lot of children with CP have learning disabilities. So much of learning is . . . physical, a bodily function. It’s possible he might have a developmental disability, depending on how much attention he received as a child and how thoughtful that attention was. You’re from Backton? Rural schooling hasn’t always been as effective as it might be or as tolerant of difference.”

Rangel sat up straight. “Do you think,” she said hesitantly, “that the fact of his having cerebral palsy might help me locate him in some way? Assuming he is still alive, of course.”

Cathcart said, “CP doesn’t directly affect life expectancy, so if he has received appropriate assistance there’s no reason from that source to imagine he’s dead. How old did you say he was?”

“He’d be thirty.”

“CP’s not a progressive disease. That is, the neurological damage doesn’t progress. But muscles, the skeletal system, even internal organs can become damaged over time because of the nature of the original impairment.” She looked down at her right leg. “Occasionally it’s necessary to resort to surgery to . . . interfere with the malfunctioning muscles. Sever a tendon. Even cut a nerve at the root. It’s a trade off, of course. How much loss of function are you prepared to accept in return for relief from pain or some other . . . devilment.” She looked up at Rangel again. “But that’s not going to help you find this man. Medical records, as I’m sure you’re well aware, are strictly private. And even if you were able to search through them, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate your man from hundreds, thousands of others who have had surgical intervention.”

Rangel sighed. “Yes, of course. You’re right. I suppose I had imagined that there might be support groups or associations of . . .”

“Fellow sufferers?”

Rangel nodded. “And that I might ask them if they knew of Jared Willoughby’s whereabouts. A long shot in every respect. But I thought it worth trying.”

Cathcart shook her head. “There are groups, charities, societies that support people with various disabilities, that attempt to change policies and attitudes and funding priorities. But they’re nearly all organized around functional limitations broadly understood. Sadly there are lots of reasons why someone may have difficulty walking or talking. Cerebral palsy is only one of those. There are CP groups of parents concerned to ensure that affected children are given the best opportunities possible. But you won’t find your thirty-year-old there.” Cathcart gripped her crutch and got to her feet. “I’m sorry, Ms. . . .”


“Rangel, but I can’t see how I can help you. And if I may say so, it seems to me you need to learn more about your missing man’s condition before you try to go down any of the avenues you’re considering.”

“You’re quite right, of course,” said Rangel, offering her left hand this time. Cathcart shook it briefly. “Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.” She smiled. “And for taking the trouble to teach me.”


RANGEL SAT IN HER ELECTRIC blue truck. Under the fluorescent lighting of the garage the colour lost any charm it might otherwise have had, striking Rangel as cold and unforgiving. Without thought, she pulled the Sanders’ appeal material out of her briefcase and opened the red folder.

The details were spare, mostly broad allegations in the courtesy letter she’d been sent. The E and O people had managed to cobble together a bit more detail from some preliminary communication with Sanders’ lawyers. Rangel forced herself to read it all carefully in the harsh light, to read it as a lawyer would and not as an alarmed client.

Through all the blah-blah-blah, one thing caught her eye. It seemed that Sanders was pinning some of his hopes, at least, on her having mishandled the matter of MAC addresses.

She cast her mind back. MAC addresses. Something ‘access control,’ she recalled. ‘Media,’ that was it. ‘Media access control.’ This made no sense. There had been no problem, no issue, with the technical side of Sanders’ case: child pornography images and emails were found on his computer; her expert agreed with the Crown’s tech data that this was material he’d placed there. Sanders of course denied it, but there was no percentage in going that route. Her whole effort had been on other aspects of the case.

She squared up the pages and put them back in the red folder, which went back into her briefcase. A moment later she’d taken the folder out again and was shuffling through the pages once more, not seeing what was on them, hoping perhaps that the words would be magically effaced, that at some imminent stroke this would all come to nothing.

MAC addresses.

Wally would know.

But it couldn’t matter. If it had been important, material, it would have been raised all those many months ago when her trial preparation was in progress. She would have flagged it. Wally would have flagged it if she’d somehow missed it.

It was nonsense. It had to be. Technical bullshit to make the old appellate judges nervous.

She turned the key and sat there as the engine rumbled on.

A note on your approaching disabilities.


© Simon Fodden

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