by Rick Beck

Chapter 7

Shoes Fall Like Dominoes

Vince sat alone in his place Friday night. He drank ginger ale because he liked its fizz. He fixed himself a Cornish hen with dressing, fresh from the ready to eat gourmet meal freezer case at Ralph's. He ate without enjoying his meal.

Lighting the fire in the fireplace, he looked out across his balcony at the lights that would be Pacific Beach. It was another Friday night. One week since the accident. He thought he'd go park in Balboa Park to look for the boy that witnessed the accident.

Angus drank coffee from the quart Thermos bottle. It was black. He ate Dolly Madison sweet rolls and Lays potato chips, the ones with the ruffles, not all at the same time. Plato Martin came out of and went back into his apartment twice. Both times he had a young man about Ronnie's age with him.

They walked to a corner market and later to the nearest liquor store. Being a former military man, it was easy for Angus to spot the haircut, along with a posture it takes some time to lose. As the second afternoon became early evening, people began to arrive. Most of these were young, but not all of them. Probably no one was over thirty.

By midnight Angus had talked himself into believing this was the night he'd finally catch up with Ronnie. There were instincts and there was simply being tired of sitting and eating junk night after night. He was sure he was in the right spot and he expected to get the break he was waiting for any time.

Angus had listened to the kids describe Ronnie, his habits, and his routine. When Angus came to Plato's, it was the place where Ronnie was most likely to cross his path. He might stay away from the park. It was where someone would look for the witness to the accident.

This was the right spot. All of Angus's instincts said so, but by Sunday the evening turned cool and his instincts had gone cold. The police kept a casual undercover eye on Plato. He was a small time player, but the cops had connected him to a Mexican drug connection, which might make him a material witness if he could skate on whatever drug charges they had hanging over his head.

Angus always checked in with the local police before he went on a stakeout. His Chicago career, along with his connection to Wes Mathews, bought him a pass. Wes was seen as an upright guy, who didn't go after cops in the defense of his clients. He worked out any questionable activity behind the scenes, which the department appreciated.

Likewise, when there was an ongoing investigation that Angus could interfere with, he made certain he didn't. He listed the times he'd be on stakeout and where he would be, and if something came up, the police knew how to disengage him from the scene.

Angus left Plato's just before first light Monday. He was no longer so certain Ronnie would show up there. He stopped on the way home to call Wes. He liked being his wakeup call.

"I've spent the last three nights on stakeout. Nothing. The kid has disappeared. He's not following any of the patterns I've picked up on him."

"Left town to avoid testifying?"

"I don't know that he has any place to go. That's why I liked this place. He stays there."

"I've got a really good idea, Angus" Wes said.

"Yea, Wes."

"One time when you call to wake me from a sound sleep, have good news for a change," Wes snapped, and the phone went dead.

Wes lay with his hands behind his head, thinking. He was disappointed. This was a simple DUI he'd win in a walk 99% of the time and his young doctor would be right back on the fast track. The case was all wrong from the beginning. Someone was standing in the way. It kept him from getting results and he didn't like it. Most cases followed a predictable pattern. This one didn't.

On Monday morning when Vince arrived at the hospital he was given a message that Tom Kennedy, chief of staff, wanted to see him. Their relationship had always been cordial, but Vince was no fool. Tom would see him if he wanted to see him. He wasn't seeing him, he was calling him to his office.

"Vince! Come in. Have a seat. How are you doing?"

"I've got a feeling you're about to tell me, Tom," Vince said in an annoyed voice that gave away his anger.

"You're a good doctor, Vince," Tom said, turning to look out the window at the parking lot.

"…But," Vince said. "You left out the but, Tom," Vince said with a phony sweetness to his words.

"We are a leading hospital, Vince. We are in the spotlight because of our aggressive style. It brings us the publicity we need to fund the wonderful work we do," Tom said with pride.

"Are we filming a commercial?" Vince said sarcastically.

"Vince, this isn't easy for any of us. You need to take a leave of absence until this is over with. We wish you the best. We'll do anything to assist you in clearing your name, but we can't afford to keep you on staff with the newspaper headlines beating this to death every day."

"I don't need to clear my name," Vince said, already standing. "A girl walked out in front of my car. It was a terrible accident, Tom. I did all I could to save that girl's life but I wasn't that good. I wasn't impaired and I'm not impaired now. I see the handwriting on the wall. I'll walk away. I will be found not guilty and then I'll go to work for your competition and you'll regret this day."

"Vince," Tom sang. "We're merely asking you…."

He didn't need to finish. Vince was gone. Tom was glad it hadn't ended with a screaming match. Vince was a very good doctor but he was a liability and this was just good business.

Vince emptied his desk and dumped the box in his trunk within five minutes. The halls were strangely devoid of staff. His secretary wasn't at her desk. There was no one at the nurses' station as he left.

He sat in his rental car for a long time before he started it. While he intended to go home, he kept taking the wrong turns. With his mind rushing from one subject to another, Vince decided he needed to get out of his car. He took the ramp at Quinsy Street from Route 163 and found himself just north of Laurel Street inside Balboa Park.

He'd never taken that exit before. He knew where the coffee shop was a few blocks away. He still needed his morning coffee and he let the girl sell him a half dozen donuts instead of the one he came for.

Driving back to the park, he left his car to relax on the well trimmed lawn. He needed some fresh air. He needed to think.

There were three guys throwing a Frisbee. Bike riders were using the wide sidewalk, and several other guys were tossing a football. The traffic was light and there was little noise past the jet planes that seemed to be landing just beyond Laurel Street.

It was after nine when time wasn't a factor in his day. The patients that depended on him would need to depend on someone else. His appointment book hadn't been on his desk or in the drawers. Someone else was already seeing the people he was treating.

He ate a half powdered donut and put it on top of the half dozen the girl tossed into the bag. He drank the coffee as he walked, and he stopped at the first lamp pole he came to. The flier said it all: REWARD for anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of "Ronnie." Vince had no trouble recognizing the sketch. It was good work, but it hadn't worked yet.

It was the first time Vince had a name to go with the face. Sharon and Ronnie, he thought. He carefully removed the poster from the pole, folding it to tuck it into his pocket. He wasn't sure what he would do, but he wanted a copy of the poster. He'd get some from Wes and replace the one he was taking, but he wanted one with him.

The morning was warm and most of the park patrons were dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. People walked large dogs and other people walked alone and too fast. He moved onto the grass to avoid being in conflict with the bikes and fast walkers, returning to his car, where he sat for a long time.

When he sipped at his coffee it was almost empty and cold. It was time for a refill. Two boys had seated themselves a dozen feet in front of the car as he looked out of the windshield. They looked young and one looked back at him. He wondered if they knew Ronnie or had seen him.

"You window shopping or got something in mind," the older boy said, looking directly at Vince.

"What?" Vince said, caught by surprise.

"You been eye balling me for long enough to know what it is you want," the boy said boldly.

"No. I suppose I really don't have anything on my mind. That's why I came to a halt. I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

"Guy dresses like you should know where he's going. You a tourist?"

"No. Not really. I've been in San Diego for years. I've just never come here to sit before."

"What are you looking for? Maybe I can help," the boy said, standing up to walk over to the car.

"You hungry?" Vince asked, as the kid leaned on his window.

"Does a bear shit in the woods?"

"I don't know. I steer clear of bear, shitting or not," Vince said, handing over the bag of donuts.

"Damn, man, you want a date or what?"

"No, I just didn't have the heart to tell the sales girl that I didn't want all those donuts. No point in wasting them."

"I can sure help you get rid of these," the boy said delighted.

"Let your friend have a couple," Vince advised.

"He don't like donuts," the kid said.

"You want I should take them back?"

"Hey, Gary, man wants you to eat some of my donuts," the boy said.

"Donuts," Gary said. "Don't eat them all, Doug. Save one for me," Gary said, as Doug pushed donuts into his mouth.

"Here, look at this," Vince said, unfolding the flier.

"That's Ronnie. You a cop?" Doug said.


"What are you doing with this? A big fat dude asked me about him last week. He hung these all around the park. Didn't say what the reward was. You a friend of his?" Doug asked suspiciously.

"He was big. He wasn't all that fat," Gary said. "Looked like a cop. You don't look like no cop."

"No. I'm not a cop. I know who he is but I don't know him. Did you give him any information."

"Not enough to get a reward. I told him Ronnie comes and goes. He steals the girls," Doug complained.

"Ronnie's okay for an old guy," Gary said. "The girl he liked best, she got killed. He ain't been here since that night. You got a reward?"

"Yea, donuts. I already paid off," Vince joked.

"Cool," Gary said. "I was starved. Thanks."

"Where are you from?" Vince asked.

"Me?" Doug asked. "I'm from Tulsa. That's in Oklahoma."

"Yea, I figured it was still there," Vince said, amused.

"Where you from, short stuff?" Vince asked Gary.

"Camden. That's in New Jersey. Still," Gary said, smiling broadly.

"What brings you up here?" Doug asked, licking his fingers to get all the powdered sugar off.

"Me? Nothing. I just wanted to get out of my car. Get some fresh air. I needed to think."

"You aren't out of your car," Doug observed.

"No, I got back in and I was just sitting here thinking."

"You do that a lot, thinking?"

"I have a lot more time for it these days."

"Why you driving a rental car?" Gary asked.

"How do you know it's a rental?"

"Tags, man. Rentals all have certain prefixes," Gary said.

"Why would you know a thing like that?" Vince asked.

"Got to be careful who you get in with. Cops pull some weird shit to bust you. Rentals are safe. Tourista. What kind of car you got?"

"Mercedes. Benz."

"Damn," Gary said, spinning around and holding his chest as he fell back on the grass. "I knew by that suit you got money, but a Benz! Damn, you de man. You sure I can't do something for you? Anything, anything at all? I work cheap."

"What do you have in mind," Vince naively asked.

"You better be careful, man," Doug said seriously. "This kid'll own your under shorts you don't keep an eye on him."

"Shut up, Doug. You don't know shit," Gary objected. "I know how to make a guy forget his troubles. What's your name."

"Vince. I'm Vince. What do you boys do in the park?"

"He's a fairy," Doug said. "His old man kicked his ass out and told him not to come back."

"Shut the hell up. You don't know jack about shit, Doug. I left home for a lot of reasons. You don't be talking no shit about me."

"This man isn't taking you anywhere," Doug explained.

"Are you gay?" Vince heard himself say. "I'm sorry. That's none of my business. I just heard what Doug said. There's nothing wrong with it if you are."

"There's only one reason anyone needs to know that. Ask again and I'll tell you," Gary said. "I could make your Mercedes look good."

"How old are you?" Vince asked.

"Twenty-one," Gary said, looking fifteen or sixteen.

"He's twelve," Doug said.

"Shut up. Am not," Gary protested.

"How can anyone your age be sure of his sexuality?" Vince asked thoughtfully.

"How can anyone my age not be?" Gary replied. "What, you got to be forty to know what makes your dick hard?"

"No, it's just that you're out here on the street. If you're going with people in the park, that can't be very safe. You aren't very big."

"If you're hungry, safe comes in second," Doug said.

"You're not gay?" Vince asked Doug.

"No way. Girls, girls, and more girls. That don't mean I don't eat."

"Yea, I guess," Vince said, never giving a thought to kids living on the street before.

"You sure you don't need anything, Vince? I'm pretty good."

"No. I'm fine Gary. You should be careful. There's a lot of dangerous people out here."

"You a preacher?" Doug asked.

"No, I'm a doctor."

"Shit, a doc with a Benz," Gary said, spinning in a circle and falling down again.

"How about looking at my arm. I got in a little disagreement with one of the old geezers. He cut me pretty good. You look at it, doc?" Doug asked.

"You were teasing him," Gary said. "Told you to leave those old drunks alone."

"Shut up, Gary," Doug ordered.

"Sure," Vince said. "I'm not doing anything at the moment. Let me have a look at it," Vince said, swinging the door open and letting his feet rest on the parking lot.

Doug peeled off a black trench coat, pushing up his shirt sleeve. There was a cloth wrapped around his upper arm. There was blood stain on the cloth.

"How long ago you do this?"

"Night before last."

"Needed stitching then. It's still bleeding. You've got a mild infection."

"You fix it, doc?"

"I can clean it. Give you a nice clean bandage. It's too late to stitch it. You're going to have a scar. You need to keep it clean."

"Damn," Doug said. "There goes my modeling career."

Vince removed his black bag from under the various items from his desk he'd dumped on top of it. He wasn't a general practitioner but he had interned and did a stint in the ER. Treatment like this was easy enough. What caught him off guard was the attitude of these two street kids. He had little contact with children, but a couple of street kids could hardly be children.

"Where do you go when you need help?" Vince asked.

"St. Vincent DePaul. They have a doctor some days. Not this week. Some days they have a clinic," Gary said wide eyed. "Last time I was down there, Ronnie was there. He eats there some days."

"You saw Ronnie at St. Vincent DePaul?" Vince said, looking up.

"Yea, we all go down there for food and stuff they hand out to the homeless," Doug said.

"That's where I get my condoms," Gary bragged.

"They give a kid your age condoms?"

"Nurse insists on it. Life savers, she calls them. She's cool. She comes up here with sandwiches some nights. She likes us," Gary said. "Most everyone else tries to run us off. We go down in the canyons and they can't catch us."

"Ouch, doc. That hurts," Doug said.

"It's infected. Alcohol will help. Stand still so I can get a bandage over it. I'm going to write you a prescription for an antibiotic," Vince said, as he took out his prescription pad.

"Write me a prescription? What the hell am I going to do with that, paper my recreation room? I don't got no bread for meds. I had bread I wouldn't be hungry. Prescriptions aren't in my long term budget, doc. What's in this deal for you anyway?"

"In it for me? I don't know there's anything in it for me. You need help. I'm a doctor. How'd it look if I let you bleed to death?"

"It's hardly bleeding," Doug objected.

"It's hardly infected," Vince retorted.

"When's the last time you saw Ronnie?" Vince asked.

"Week. More. He hangs with some Greek dude," Gary said.

"Greek dude? What Greek dude?"

"What do you want with him?" Gary asked. "Klatu, Pluto, I don't know. Sounded Greek to me."

"There was an accident. He saw it. He needs to tell what he saw is all." Vince explained. "Get in. Says reward on the top of this poster. Since you tried to help me, I'll get your meds, and both of you get lunch. How's that for a reward?"

"Cool, man," Doug said happily.

"Can we wait until you get your Benz back?" Gary asked.

"Get in the car," Doug said. "Shotgun!"

"Yea, that's right, make the short guy sit in back," Gary said.

They went to a drug store in Hillcrest, stopping at the Jack in the Box on Washington Blvd. Both boys got two gigantic burgers, two gigantic fries, and a gigantic soda.

"How long since you were tested?" Vince asked the hungry boys.

"Tested. Tested? Doc, what's the point. If I got it, I got it. If I ain't, I ain't. I'm still going to be out here selling what I got to sell to eat. You sure you aren't a priest?" Doug said.

"No, but there is help if you got it. It gives you a shot at a better life if it's treated. You live longer and you live better."

"Doc, you mean it gets better. Staying alive longer to be hungry all the time is not something I lay awake nights thinking about. How and when I die is just a continuation of the shit. When I drop, I'm dead," Doug said.

"Regardless, you need to be tested if you're sexually active. There are all kinds of STDs and most are easily treated, but some can kill you. They need to be treated."

"Doc, getting enough to eat is a full time job. I got no time for treatments."

Gary laughed as the conversation died away. The boys devoured the meal. Vince couldn't believe two boys that size could pack away all that food. Vince dropped them back in the park in short order. Gary leaned in the rolled down window still chewing his last bite of burger and holding his soda.

"We'll be okay, doc. Don't worry about us. Around eleven or twelve. Week days. Never weekends."

"Pardon," Vince said, totally lost in the comment as Gary sipped his soda.

"Your boy, …Ronnie. Never caught him there on weekends. St. Vincent DePaul. Week days. About that time. He usually came to line up for the meal. Hope you find him," Gary said, still chewing. "Later, doc."

"Thanks for the patch job. The meds. I'll go down and get it looked at the next time they got a doc, doc," Doug said, waving.

"You take those meds like I told you. Here's ten dollars. You two get a good dinner tonight," Vince said, putting the bill in Doug's outstretched hand as Gary missed out on the transaction. "You share that with Gary."

"He's cool, doc. He takes care of me. He'll share," Gary said as they backed away from the car.

"Thanks. I appreciate the information."

"You ever get lonely, see my secretary," Gary said. "She lives down at the second tree on the right," he joked, smiling happily.

Vince drove away, not sure of why he stopped in that particular spot. He found it strange that some of the kids wanted to help him. His world was collapsing in on him, when he stopped there, and he'd come away with some idea of where he might find his witness.

There was something else he found there. His services were needed by someone who couldn't afford his pricey service. He'd reached into his black doctor's bag and rediscovered he didn't mind practicing medicine. He'd lost touch with his patients. It was all consultations, referrals, and treatments he didn't perform himself. The money was in his wisdom. Do this. Do that. See him. See her. Here's a card with their numbers. Good luck.

He operated once or twice a month. His every cut was monitored and tracked by the new crop of surgeons, looking for their field. Even when he turned the operating theater over to a protégé, his fee didn't change. Dr. Parsons made more money than he could spend. He was invested, incorporated, and certified.

Vince drove out of Balboa Park hopeful. His world was changing. It hadn't begun changing that morning when Tom Kennedy fired him. It was changed the night Sharon walked out in front of his car. Nothing would ever be the same after that. It was time he re-evaluate his life.

He'd never seen much of San Diego. He worked there. He did his business there. He bought a sailboat, thinking a yacht too gaudy, but he hardly ever spent time on it. He'd rarely gone sailing after taking the lessons. He was sure he liked it but had no time for it. He'd bought the penthouse, when the Harbor Club first opening. It was impressive without the view, but the view was what everyone remembered. He didn't need to open up the sailboat to entertain doctors, but he held onto it in case he had time to sail one day.

He'd never ridden the trolley, but he had a Mercedes Benz. He'd never been to Mexico, but it was a half hour away. He'd never gone to the beach but he could see the beach from his balcony.

His life had been one steady climb up the ladder of success, but he'd stopped climbing a little over a week ago. For the first time in years he knew where he was and what it looked like being there. He was in danger of losing it all, and that's if he proved his innocence. If he was convicted he'd end up in prison.

This was a thought he hadn't allowed himself to have, until the day he met Gary and Doug in the park. What did they do to end up there? Were they guilty? He never knew where homeless kids went before. He never gave it a thought. Now he couldn't stop picturing two homeless kids on their own in a park. How did they get there before they were old enough to find their way in life? Did anyone know what they did to get enough food to stay alive? Did anyone care?

Being innocent and proving you're innocence are two different things. He became aware he wasn't innocent until he proved it in court. It didn't matter to Tom Kennedy, he hadn't had his day in court. He was forever guilty, until he proved otherwise. The headlines in the San Diego Union proved it.

Vince was a man of leisure now. He didn't know what he'd do. There was no point in trying to find another hospital. Throwing up a shingle and becoming a general practitioner, well, he was rusty and no one wanted a doctor whose life was hanging by a thread.

Vince wanted to stop and get a good bottle of Scotch, and just stay inside for a few days. He couldn't do it because his attorney told him not to do it. He would do every thing Wes Mathews told him to do and pray it would be enough to get his life back one day.

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