Benz

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

Rainy Days And Mondays

Vince Parsons showed up at Wes Mathews' office at 9 a.m. Monday. His appointment wasn't until ten. He was anxious and angry.

The secretary seated him in the waiting room. She brought him a cup of coffee, asking if he wanted a donut. Vince declined.

He was feeling a little bit better. He'd slept a few hours the night before but he found sleeping difficult.

He'd called Jennifer twice on Sunday, but she hadn't returned either call. He knew it was the accident. She was still upset and he understood. He wanted his life to go back to normal, but he didn't see how it could.

Wes Mathews exuded confidence. He spent the first half of the meeting going over the process. He explained what would happen and when it would happen. There would be no surprises. He knew the judges. He knew all the prosecutors and he'd been dealing with most of them for years. This wasn't going to be a complicated case.

The steps sounded simple enough to Vince, and after describing each step, Wes said he'd take care of it and Vince shouldn't worry. The only thing that made him uncomfortable was the formal reading of the charges in court the following morning.

"I'll waive the reading of the charges and all time requirements. It's a formality," Wes explained. "We'll only be in front of the judge for a few minutes.

This gave them a month before the preliminary hearing, at which time they'd hear what the prosecutor was after.

"I'll talk to the prosecutor beforehand. We'll discuss what he thinks is appropriate. Once I know that, I'll build a case to prove you're guilty of nothing more than bad timing."

"This kid, the witness, you could identify him?" Wes asked.

"Yes, sir! He was only a foot from my face. Blond kid. Platinum. Tall kid. Broad shoulders. Thin though. I'd know him if I saw him."

"Could you describe him to an artist?"

"Sure. I could do that."

"This isn't going to come cheap. This kid, your witness, is the key to the case. We find him, you're fine. We don't, and we've got to bust holes in the prosecutor's case. We can't leave doubt about your innocence. Without the eyewitness my job is far more difficult."

"I agree. You do what you need to do no matter the cost. Did you see the piece in the Sunday paper? They've convicted me already."

"No doubt it is prejudicial. We've got to get out ahead of them. I've an artist wanting to see you. Shell do a composite of the witness. We'll post it around the scene of the accident, offer a reward. Someone may know him. If he's from that area we'll find him.

"Angus McCoy is my investigator. He's very good. With a sketch, he'll find out who he is. We don't know if he'll support your version of the accident. You never know what someone thinks they saw."

"He said, 'She walked out in front of your car.'"

"We'll find him. The prosecutor won't want to go forward after his testimony. I don't like the fact he left the scene. It doesn't speak well of his character or judgment. If he agrees with your statement it'll be difficult to argue. The prosecutor will use the fact he left the scene of the accident to question his reliability. We'll be okay.

"I want to be aggressive with your defense. I'm going to need $25,000 dollars to get to trial. This will take us through the investigation and into the early stages of the trial if we can't get a plea deal. I'd lean against concessions, because of your career. This will never completely go away, Vincent. No matter how well this goes, there will be those who question the outcome, because of who you are. If what you tell me is true, and we find the witness, we'll be okay."

"After my experience this weekend, that sounds good to me."

"I have a psychiatrist. I use in cases like this. It's important for you to maintain a healthy frame of mind. This isn't going to be easy. He'll see you the first time as part of my service to you. You can make arrangements to see him again if you feel it is beneficial. You've got to be confident we're going to beat this. It's what I recommend."

"That might be a good idea. My life is all routine inside of a closed environment. I was on the first date I'd been on in a couple of years Friday night, when this happened. Terrible timing."

"I'm sorry," Wes sympathized. "I'm here to do all I can for you. We are at a disadvantage. You're a well-to-do doctor. You were drinking. Whether you were impaired or not, a girl died after you hit her. Those are facts. We need to overcome them.

"I need you to realize you can't drink and drive. Not even a thimble full. You drink, let someone else drive. You can't be in any public altercation or receive any notoriety. You're angry. You have every right to be, but I'm taking care of this and you go about your business and I'll keep you advised of how the investigation is going."

"Yes, sir. My reputation is my life. I can't have this hanging over me. I do good work, Mr. Mathews. This could ruin me. I'm not about to do anything to make it worse."

"First I want to get you to my artist. The sketch will be instrumental in locating the witness. We'll take it a step at a time until we have this behind you. My secretary will give you the address. Go right over so I have the sketch for my investigator as soon as possible. Then, go about your business. I'd say don't drink at all to be on the safe side. Wouldn't hurt if you found a charity where you could donate some time. We want you looking like the upstanding citizen you are. Doesn't hurt to have the jury on our side."

"You think it will get to a jury?"

"No. We find the witness, I don't think it will, but we prepare like we're going all the way to trial. If they won't drop the charges, we're going for a not guilty. The prosecutor will watch to see what we do."

"I'll follow all your instructions."

The meeting had taken less than a half hour. Vince canceled all his appointments for the day, once it was over. He went to sit with the artist until her composite sketch closely resembled the boy who had witnessed the accident. Vince knew he was the key to proving his innocence and he'd have sat there all day, for two days, to get it right.

It took two hours to satisfy him. He could still picture the handsome boy with the horrified look on his face. He'd recognize him anywhere.

He made an appointment to speak with the psychiatrist Mr. Mathews recommended. There was no doubt in his mind this doctor would appear in court to testify about his good mental health.

Vince had spent his share of time in a courtroom, when he first arrived in San Diego ten years before. He would testify for the defense in cases where his expertise could make the difference in proving a case. It's how he made money until he found work at Scripps Hospital. He often appeared directly before or after the psychiatrist who testified to the defendant's good mental health. He knew the routine.

As with everything in a nightmare, it all runs insanely out of control. The nightmare worsened when Dr. Vincent Parsons returned home Monday evening. The answering machine was blinking. He hung up his jacket, watching the blinking red light, took off his shoes and pressed the button, sitting in the easy chair, hoping to hear Jennifer's voice. He didn't.

"Vince, Wes. We won't be going into court in the morning. There's been a complication. Meet me in my office in the morning, as per our original plan. We'll discuss it then."

The message was short. Vince carefully analyzed each word. His mind focused on the word complication. He wanted a drink, thinking it would help his nerves. He wasn't going out and one wouldn't hurt.

Once he arrived at Mr. Matthew's office at nine, he was brought a cup of coffee. It was ten before Wes appeared at the door to his office.

"Come on in."

Wes sorted through some papers and kept his back to Vince. He finally situated himself in his chair, finding the right position.

"Things have taken a turn. I don't fully understand it. The DUI and failure to pay full time and attention, have been put aside for a charge of negligent homicide."

"What?" Vince gasped. "That sounds like overkill."

"I've talked to the DA, and he says that the information they've gotten from the police officers on scene, the paramedics, and from the investigation they've conducted, you were under the influence. You administered medical aid preceding the arrival of the paramedics. I assume they're questioning your judgment.

"You refused a breathalyzer test. The girl expired on the way to the hospital. The paramedics did not treat her injury, because it was only a couple of minutes to the ER. I can't be sure if they're saying your treatment of the girl killed her, or your treatment prevented the paramedics from following procedures, which led to her death."

"That's ridiculous. She was dying when I got to her. I did all within my power to keep her alive. I can describe my treatment. A doctor trumps paramedics on the scene of an accident. I'm protected in treating accident victims. They can't do this," Vince objected.

"Your car hit her. They're questioning your condition. They're questioning your judgment."

"I treated her by the book, Mr. Mathews. Her neck was broken. She'd stopped breathing. I tried to make her comfortable and prepare her for transport. That's all I did. That's all I could do without an operating room."

"But you had been drinking?"

"Yes, two glasses of wine. That's it. I wasn't even high, Mr. Mathews. I attend three martini lunches and rarely get more than a buzz, but even then I don't drive. Wine doesn't faze me. I had a full meal with one glass of wine before the meal and one during the meal."

"You looked at your companion just as the accident took place?"

"Yes, I turned to glance at her, but I've thought about that. When I started to look away from Jennifer, my eyes were coming from the right side of the windshield toward the left. I saw her the instant my eyes moved off of Jennifer. Sharon was moving toward the left front of the parked car. She walked right out in front of me. I couldn't stop in time."

"Sharon?"

"The boy… My witness, he knew her name. That's how I know."

"That's good," Wes said thoughtfully. "I've heard nothing on the sketch. Angus picked it up from the artist last evening. He was going to canvas the park near the accident scene. He hasn't checked in this morning, but he doesn't call unless he has something for me."

"What does this mean, Mr. Mathews?"

"It means they're overreaching. It means we have a lot more riding on this case than we did yesterday. I don't like being surprised. There's no set way of doing things, but it usually follows a pattern. That's to say it is predictable.

"Every once in a while the prosecutor ups the ante. It's difficult to say why. You're a doctor. They may be using you to send a message, using this case to send it. Whatever they're up to, it's my job to see they don't play politics with you. One victim in this case is quite enough.

"If your career could be seriously damaged by a DUI manslaughter charge, Negligent homicide will end it. The DA could want your license to practice medicine. If this wasn't a high profile case already, they've made it one.

"I haven't talked with the prosecutor yet, but his staff seems to know where he's going. That means I've got to make sure he doesn't surprise me again."

"I wasn't drunk, Mr. Mathews. How can they say that?"

"It's easy. They say it. They don't need to prove anything to say it. You've got to prove it isn't true. You are on trial here, Vince. This is the real world where the newspapers will report supposition as fact."

"What happened to justice? Isn't something missing here?" Vince said. "She walked out in front of my car. I wasn't impaired."

"It's up to us to get out ahead of them and stay there. When all is said and done, they'll be the ones needing to explain their actions. Judges aren't as easily persuaded of guilt as prosecutors. Often a judge will insist on proof. I plan to have that proof when the time comes."

"I'm shaking in my shoes. I don't mind telling you, but you sound sure of yourself. I trust your judgment and I know you'll do all you can to make sure this turns out okay. I understand you can't control everything, Mr. Mathews. I know I am at risk. You tell me what to do, and I'll do it. I had a drink last night, after I got your call. That's my last. I intend to return to work, do my job, and keep a low profile."

"I appreciate your confidence. We've got to find that witness. While everything else is a matter of record, the witness is the key. Prove she came out in front of you, and the case goes away. The witness will be our focus. We introduce him, a few experts to support your treatment as standard and they have nothing. The DA is left with an empty bag of tricks he won't want to pull out again for some time. Without that witness, you have a drinking doctor and a dead girl. Those are powerful images that they're using to convict you before trial.

"They said you refused the breathalyzer. Is that true? You know they can take your drivers license. I wish you'd been more cooperative with the police. At least they might be neutral. Well, we'll take care of it. Just a matter of making use of our resources. We'll be all right, Vince. We'll be okay. "

"I asked for a blood test. I know they are more accurate. I wouldn't take a breathalyzer because I only wanted a blood test to prove I wasn't drunk. They wrote it on the papers before they put me in the tank. I was so agitated. I was in shock. I never realized they didn't give me the test, when they called me for release."

"They wrote it down?"

"The deputy put it on top of the paper he filled out when I first got there."

"It's written on those documents and they didn't give you the test?"

"No. they didn't."

"I'll see if I can't get a copy of those papers."

"I told the police officer that took me to the jail that I wanted the blood test."

"Any witnesses?"

"No, we were in the car. He told me I should take the breathalyzer again. I told him I wanted a blood test, because I knew they were more accurate."

"Only if it is done. I appreciate you were sure you were sober."

As quick as Vince left Wes Mathews office, Wes was on the phone to his investigator.

"Yea, Angus. Wes. What have you come up with?"

"Late night, Wes. I was just gathering myself together. Excuse me if I sound a bit tired. The kid's name is Ronnie something or other. No one knows for sure. We're talking mostly children here. He's been around town several months.

"He's not going to be our best witness ever. They'll love his character, not to mention he left the scene of a deadly accident."

"Don't try the case for me, Angus. I've got enough trouble. When do you deliver this kid to me?"

"He does drugs. Might be connected to a drug dealer. No definite details but these were things I got from more than one source. Who knew there were children living up in the park? My god, Wes, they're like fourteen, fifteen, and they live under the trees and in the canyons."

"Angus, the girl's name is Sharon. The girl the doctor hit. See if anyone knew her. We've got a lot of random information, but until we have that boy, we don't have enough. I don't know what we're dealing with yet. The prosecutor isn't talking to me. Wants to make an example of the good doctor, no doubt."

"What do you think he's after?" Angus asked.

"My gut says he wants to take the doctor down. He's a bit arrogant, but he's an important doctor. I don't understand the silence."

"You're a hot shot attorney and you aren't arrogant," Angus said.

"I'm too old for arrogance. Just getting through the day is good work for me."

"I'm a top notch private investigator and I'm not arrogant."

"McCoy!"

"Mathews!"

"Now that you've psychoanalyzed us all, do you have a plan?"

"I'll get copies of the sketch, put up posters. I'll go back and talk to the daytime park people. They all smell, Wes."

"Angus! Stop smelling them and find the boy."

"I'll ask about Sharon. See if anyone knows who she is, where she came from. It's a crap shoot right now. If this kid hits the park, I'm on it, Wes."

"Go ahead and do it and report back to me if you get something interesting."

"You're welcome," Angus said, as the call ended.

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