Benz

by Rick Beck

Chapter 18

The Meat in the Sandwich

There were a dozen leads Angus was working on but none helped to prove Vince's innocence, and Wes was running out of cards to play in court. The witness who could change it all was still out of reach, but Angus was closing in on his location.

Wes made all his preliminary moves. He'd set Dr. Parsons up as likable, a dedicated, responsible man. The waiter helped, the paramedic changed nothing, and Mr. Bliss had brought Sharon to life. Ordinarily a prosecution witness, Wes did his best to reduce the impact of his testimony, but his daughter was dead, Vince hit her after drinking at dinner. Wes would prefer Mr. Bliss didn't frame his remarks about Vince's drinking the way he had, but he wasn't hostile.

The facts couldn't be altered or hidden. Wes presented Mr. Bliss without the hostility Ben Green would have encouraged. Wes' investigator was better than the prosecutor's investigator. He found Sharon's father, who agreed to testify for the defense. He had no agenda beyond telling his daughter's story.

His testimony could have been worse, but you never knew what took place in a juror's mind. Some jurors were swayed by emotion; others weren't. Each jury was different. You didn't dare underestimate one and you dare not try to hide the victim's father, even if you could.

Wes thought it had gone as well as it could. He was ready to call his best witness to offset the testimony of Mr. Bliss.

"Defense calls Dr. Parsons," Wes said, beginning to fumble with some papers, anything to spend time. He glanced once more at the door before he approached his witness.

Vince wore his best suit. It was the one he reserved for high powered meetings and high classed balls. It was dark; his shirt was white. The tie was blue. Vince looked distinguished with the slight gray that had begun to creep into his hair at the temples. There were sprinkles of gray in the hair above his ears.

Vince sat straight and tall, showing no sign of defeat, although the life he once knew as the dashing handsome young surgeon was over. Not only was his life changed, he was a changed man. His confidence came from an inner strength he'd never been required to draw on before. He was resigned to whatever fate awaited him, but he could not be defeated and he no longer doubted himself.

He'd be found guilty, do his time, come home and start a new life in five, ten, or fifteen years. He'd be found innocent and he'd pick up what was left of his life and go back to work. He wasn't sure which scenario would play itself out, but he was ready to get past this chapter in his life.

"Dr. Parsons, you're a neurosurgeon," Wes said, walking with purpose toward his client.

"I am."

"Takes a lot of education to do that?"

"Still learning. It's a never ending process."

"You like your work?"

"Now, or before?" Vince questioned.

"Either. Both. How's life?"

"I never really wanted to be in general practice."

"Why is that, Dr. Parsons?"

"Too many people. Procedure, consultation, referral, evaluation, were my forte. I've never been good with people. I never liked people, to be honest. They didn't impress me. Actually, people scare me."

"Why do you think that is, doctor?"

"I've never given much thought to people or their problems. I'm good with books. I'm good with facts. I learn fast. People confuse me. I don't know how to talk to them. Facts are simple to deal with once you learn them. You never really learn about people. Each one is a new experience, especially when they're sick."

"So, why have you been working at St. Vincent DePaul? Aren't a lot of people involved in practicing medicine down there?"

"Never seen so many people. Never seen that kind of need. I sit up in a million dollar office. I might see a few dozen patients a month. I serve in an advisory capacity on a few dozen more. I see two dozen patents before lunch working at Father Joe's."

"Why do you do it, Dr. Parsons? I mean if you don't like people?"

"I'm needed. I've never been needed before. I've been good. I've been sought after. I've been a force to be reckoned with. I'm still regarded highly in some circles. I've never been needed. I like it and right now, being needed makes what's going on tolerable. I don't mind people that much after all."

"A need. There are lots of needs. Lots of people have lots of needs. Why here? Why now? Why St. Vincent DePaul?"

"The people are easy to treat, not that they listen well, but they are grateful. My payment is a smile and some of that good St. Vincent DePaul food. I've never been better paid."

"Do they know you're a prominent doctor, a surgeon, doctor?"

"I'm a guy with a stethoscope who says, stick out your tongue and cough; not at the same time of course. That's what they know. They want to feel like someone cares. They assume I'm a doctor because of the stethoscope. They don't ask me for my credentials. If they're good, I give them a lollipop. I think some come for the lollipop."

There were chuckles in the courtroom.

Ben Green could see Vince Parsons was clear, concise, and convincing as a witness. Besides making him recite the facts in the case against him, which always unsettled the accused, he questioned the wisdom in keeping him on the stand any longer than necessary.

Ben Green scratched the words, 'Just the facts,' on the top of his legal pad. Beside it he wrote, 'Expedite.' It was obvious Wes was in no hurry, which meant Ben wanted to speed things up.

As wily a defense attorney as Wes Mathews was reputed to be, Ben Green regarded himself every bit his equal, if not his superior in front of a jury. He knew when to talk and when silence was golden.

"Doesn't seem like many people give them much time," Vince continued. "They seem to appreciate what I do. It makes them happy. I've never made many people happy. I never gave it much thought. My life has been about climbing as high as I could on the ladder, and money. I aimed my life at where the money is."

"How rich are you, Dr. Parsons?"

Vince smiled politely.

"You'll have to tell me. I owe you plenty. I'm broke, I guess. I've sold everything in the past few months. I have a sailboat that's paid for. I live in a marina. I only have a place there because I treated the owner of the marina. He got better. I can keep my boat there as long as he lives. Makes me glad I'm good at what I do, …or did."

"Free slip privileges. That must save you a bundle," Wes said.

"No, he won't evict me. I can owe him the slip rent. He appreciates my circumstances but he isn't a fool. I charged him for my services and he charges me for his. Getting paid is another issue."

"You've fallen a long way from when you were riding high as a respected medical expert in San Diego."

"Not so much fallen as found my way."

"What is it you've found, Dr. Parsons? Sounds bleak to me."

"Myself maybe. I found happy is better than living at the top of the city above where the people live. I've found that money can't buy you love, happiness, or even an appreciation for life. I had to come down to discover those things. This isn't the way I'd have arranged it if I'd given it some thought, but it is the way it is."

"You've found quite a lot, doctor?"

"My life was on a rail. I was good in school. I decided I wanted to be a doctor and then a surgeon. I spent ten years becoming the best surgeon I knew how to be. It's isolating. I was always looking up at the next rung on the ladder. One day you're on top and you know all that work was worth it. One day I was on top of the world. I controlled all I surveyed. People treated me like I was a god. It's difficult to see the ground or the people when you're on top of the world. I spent most of my time with other doctors, other gods."

"You missed something along the way?"

"I missed life. I was smart and focused. Too focused. Until I was pushed off the ladder and I ended up back at the bottom again, I forgot about living. I won't forget again. Once this is done with, I'll have a different perspective. You live and learn and this has taught me you're never secure. The more you have, the more you have to lose. I plan to make better use of what's left of my life."

"What's the most important thing you want to do?" Wes asked.

"I plan to do a lot of sailing if I can keep my boat. The rest I'll figure out while I'm sailing."

"Your Honor, I find all this quite entertaining. Maybe Dr. Parsons will write an autobiography for us little people. This is a trial and I'm wondering if Mr. Mathews intends to present a case sometime?"

"Mr. Green," Judge Hamilton said sternly.

"Have you ever been in trouble, Vince?" Wes transitioned off Ben Green's comment.

"Yes."

"Besides this case?"

"Yes."

"You cheated on an exam?"

"I was arrested for DUI 23 years ago."

"Old habits are hard to break?" Wes asked.

"No, I learned that lesson. My father let me spend the weekend in jail. It was a piece of cake compared to a night in the San Diego jail, but for a seventeen year old, who thought he had the world by the tail, it was an eye opener."

"Ever been arrested since that date? Not counting this case?"

"No, sir."

"You quit drinking?"

"No, I learned my limits. I could pack away three martinis at lunch at conferences and the meetings doctors have to discuss a case, but never if I intended to drive or before I was seeing a patient or treating one. I will have wine with dinner, but wine has little impact on me, after martini lunches. I don't drink at dinner after a martini lunch."

"You drink that Friday night?"

"Yes, sir. Two glasses of wine. Not the cheap stuff. Good label port."

The audience tittered, recalling the waiter's testimony.

"You drunk, impaired, unable to function fully on the night in question?"

"Wine has little impact on me as far as sobriety is concerned. I don't drink enough of it to impair me. I had a glass while we waited to have our order taken at the restaurant and I asked for another glass with my meal."

"Port?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll have to try that with Italian. I like white wines with my meals. My wife won't let me have a real drink until I appreciate her food properly," Wes confessed, which amusement the observers.

Wes turned to walk to his defense table to shuffle papers, when he saw Angus standing on the inside of the courtroom doors, holding a piece of white paper in front of him, wiggling it anxious to alert Wes that they needed to talk.

"Your Honor, we're closing in on lunchtime. I'm going to take some time with the next portion of my client's testimony. It would be best not to interrupt it," Wes explained. "If the prosecution doesn't object, perhaps we could take the lunch recess at this time?"

"No objection, Your Honor," Ben Green said, unaware of Angus.

"Fine. Doctor, you have been sworn and you remain under oath, when you return to the stand after lunch," the judge directed Vince.

"We'll recess for lunch. It's eleven forty-five and we'll come to order at 2 p.m." Judge Hamilton said to the room, banging his gavel and exiting behind the bench.

Angus came to the front of the courtroom as the people moved past him to leave. Ben Green closed his briefcase and followed the jury out of the courtroom. Wes waited at the defense table as the deputy and the court recorder exited through the same door as the jury. Vince left the witness stand to walk over to where the two men met.

"What did you get me, Mr. McCoy?" Wes asked.

"Donald Rhodes. First prosecutor. Quit the case a few weeks after the accident. Left the prosecutor's office a few weeks after that. Moved to Phoenix last month. I sent Ramos to see if he'd talk to us. He's on his way back here. He's willing to testify about what he was asked to do. Here's what he plans to say."

"Is it enough for a mistrial?" Wes asked, holding the paper Angus handed him.

"I do the leg work, Wes. You're the brains in this operation. You tell me if it's enough."

Wes read what was on the page.

"Couldn't you have brought me this before trial started?"

"No one would talk to me before trial started. I just got the lead on Rhodes yesterday. How'd I know he would talk? I sent Ramos, because I can't be out of town right this minute."

"It could be enough. I'll take it to Judge Hamilton. He seems like he's in a good mood. This'll change that in a hurry," Wes said. "I'll need to copy this. I'll send a copy for the judge to read and hope I don't spend the night in jail. He's not going to enjoy it."

"It's all we got. None of the other prosecutors will talk to us. Can't you get the Union articles in front of him by virtue of this evidence, Wes? It puts Clark where we suspected we'd find him."

"Behind the stone wall. I'll have to go for broke. I haven't talked to Mr. Rhodes yet. Ben Green is going to scream bloody murder, but let him scream, if Judge Hamilton sees merit in Mr. Rhodes' testimony, and I don't know he will, I'll call Ben Green and ask him the question under oath. He's a clever prosecutor but he won't lie on the stand."

"Call the prosecutor? I didn't know you could," Angus said.

"I'll ask him one question. Under the circumstances, it's necessary. Judge Hamilton might not agree, which creates another problem. Rhodes' comments just might provide me with that latitude. We're flying on a wing and a prayer here anyway.

"I could have asked for a postponement but I've never believed the prosecution could prove negligence. I don't understand why they kept that charge. The fact they'd never talk to me might explain it. This gives us grounds for appeal if we lose. I don't know a mistrial helps us if we can get an innocent verdict.

"We're in good shape. Vince is a solid witness, but circumstantial evidence is a bear. This proves nothing concerning the case against Vince, but justice isn't blind in spite of the rumors. I'll present this and pray Judge Hamilton sees it our way. All in all, we're way better off with Rhodes on our side. Good work, Angus."

"I just do what I can," Angus said. "Ramos deserves an honorable mention.

"Judge Patrick come up with anything on Ronnie?" Wes asked.

"I'm on hold. I'll call him when I leave here."

"Vince, can you make lunch on your own? I'll send you over to China Camp for a good meal. It's going to be the longest afternoon of your life, maybe mine too."

"I got a few bucks. The YMCA serves a wicked breakfast all day and the coffee is good. I'll walk over there. Stretch my legs."

"Not too much coffee. No pee breaks during testimony," Wes said.

"Angus, you need a cup of coffee?" Vince asked. "I keep thinking I owe you at least that much."

"I've got a meeting with a judge," Angus said. "He's looking into the FBI's involvement in the arrest of the drug dealer Ronnie hangs with. Rumor has it they were arrested together and now Plato is on the street and Ronnie is nowhere. Don't get your hopes up, but he is not a judge to be trifled with. He told me he'd have something for me today."

"Rhodes going to get here today?" Wes asked.

"He's on the way. California traffic, who can say. He said he could be here this afternoon. We're close. Can't you stall?"

"That's all I've been doing. I'll get this in front of Judge Hamilton and hope for the best. It'll give us more time. He'll probably want to discuss it in chambers, after lunch," Wes said.

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