by Rick Beck

Chapter 8

Charity Starts At Home

Angus slept all day Monday, after leaving the stakeout on Plato's at six in the morning, satisfied Ronnie was neither there or likely to show up. His knowledge of suspects and their habits told him he was in precisely the right spot to find the boy, but he hadn't found him. The first thing Tuesday morning, Angus was to report to Wes for a general discussion of the case.

The preliminary hearing was closing in on him and Wes wanted to get an idea of what he'd have to take into court with him.

"I'm sorry, Wes. I've come up empty. I know the kid's habits, who he hangs with and where he goes. It's like he's vanished. 'Beam me up Scotty.' The kid is nowhere. They got donuts this morning?"

"Shirley, bring in some donuts for Angus," Wes said into the intercom. "Bring a carafe of coffee."

"I've got posters up. I've talked to people who know him. He's usually in the park about half the time. He hasn't been there. No one has seen him in a week. I can't get a single sighting after the night of the accident."

"Is he wanted for anything?"

"No. He's clean. A couple of minor arrests. He's not a player. He's a homeless kid doing what homeless kids do."

"What do they do, Angus?"

"I'm not giving you a pictorial, Wes. They do what they need to eat. Use your imagination. Kids have one thing of value. To deal with how that makes them feel, they do drugs, which never ends well. In combination with selling their fine young asses for food, it's not a good combination."

"In other words our witness could be hanging out anywhere?"

"That's a thought. He isn't hanging out anywhere I've been."

Wes leaned back in a thoughtful pose. Often they bounced ideas off one another to find a direction. Once the reality of homeless kids was apparent, the bounce failed to materialize.

"My first day on the case, I was so close to this kid I could touch him. Today, it's cold as ice. He spends weekdays in the park and he parties on weekends at Plato's. Only he hasn't been in either place."

"No other leads?" Wes asked.

"The person he was closest to was Sharon. She's dead."

"Everyone has to be somewhere," Wes said.

"I'll keep at it. I just don't know where else to look."

"That's not all that's strange, Angus. I've got a D.A. that won't talk to me. I doubt Parsons will take a plea, but there's no offer. He's never available and his staff says they'll get back to me. They don't."

"Stonewalling," Angus said.

"It's like all the rules were canceled and no one told us. Nothing seems to fit where it belongs."

"Here, I want you to look at this," Wes said. "This is the form from the jail when they booked him."

"Okay," Angus said, glancing at the page.

"Here's a copy I got from an employee of the jail."

"Okay," Angus said, glancing at it, starting to put it down, and looking again. "It's not the same."

"Very nice, McCoy. Took me two days to figure that out. The first time they photographed it with the clipboard clip covering up, 'request for blood test.' This paper wasn't filed on a clipboard."

"Someone purposely cover up the request," Angus agreed.

"Look at this one. I requested this a few days later. I told them the first copy wasn't clear enough," Wes said, handing another sheet of paper across the desk.

"It's totally different. Different hand writing. Clean paper and no request for blood test. You got 'em, Wes. He purposely gave you an altered record of his booking."

"No, I don't have a damn thing. I can't prove they doctored it. I can't prove they pulled a switch on me, but who can do this and why go through the trouble? I know they switched documents."

"They want a conviction. Hell, they have dozens of DUI cases a weekend. Why go after the good doc?" Angus asked.

"Exactly. Why go after him? That's where the case is. We need the boy. We need that witness, but I need to know who's playing games with my case. I want you to look into his past. Since he got here in San Diego. See if there is anything that can explain what's going on that will explain why everything has suddenly gone haywire.

"Instead of you trying to trail this invisible kid, look over Vince's history. The answer could be right in front of us. Is there a patient he treated and got a bad outcome? Has he pissed someone off?"

"I'll put my assistant on the park and I'll look at the public records to see if someone is trying to sue him."

"We know the doctor's witness is real. Now all we need to do is find him, but we need to have a way of proceeding if we don't."

Wes pressed the button on the intercom, "Try to get me an appointment with the prosecutor in the Parsons' case. Tell him a nice steak at China Camp if he agrees."

"Rhodes isn't on the case any longer," a voice said.

"Whomever. Someone is prosecuting. Lunch for a chat."

A few minutes later the intercom broke into the silence.

"Dr. Parsons, Wes."

"Vince, how are things going. We were just talking about you."

"They pulled my privileges at Scripps yesterday. They're calling it a leave of absence these days."

"Wait a damn minute. Who's behind it? I'll put my partner on it. We'll slap them with a lawsuit so fast their heads will spin. I'll have you back to work before the end of the week," Wes said.

"No. Don't do that. They're covering their asses, Mr. Mathews. I don't want to hurt them. I've thought it over and it could be a blessing in disguise. All this publicity; everyday another story. They have a hospital to run. I'm too hot to handle right now."

"It makes it look like they've convicted you," Wes said.

"Can you assure me I'm going to get clear of this thing?"

"Vince, this is an ongoing process. I've got everyone possible working on your behalf. We'll be okay. It takes time."

"In other words you can't guarantee you'll get me off?"

"We're having trouble finding the witness, Vince, but that's no reason to throw in the towel. You need to keep busy. There are no guarantees in legal cases, but we won't stop fighting for you."

"When I've got my name back, I'll go get my job back, but until I'm sure that will happen, I've got to find another way to spend my time. I'm thinking about going sailing, Wes," Vince said.

Vince didn't tell Wes about his visit to the park the day before or the boys who told them they knew Ronnie. Wes would have told him to stay out of it and that's not what Vince planned to do. He was in a unique position to make some inquiries that might help. If he found out something, he'd tell Wes. If he didn't, he wouldn't.

Wes looked at the phone, looking at Angus as he hung it up.

"They fired him?" Angus asked.

"They're calling it a leave of absence these days."

"You look amused. Doesn't sound amusing to me."

"He called me Wes. He never calls me Wes. Said he's going sailing."

"Better make sure he has a boat. The man's not exactly on a winning streak."

"He sounded okay with it. He sounds like a man giving some thought to his life. Sailing, you ever been sailing, McCoy?"

"I like my feet planted solidly on terra firma at all times, Wes."

It was 11 a.m. when Vince found himself walking toward Market Street, where he turned right. He knew where he was going but he hadn't figured out what he'd do when he got there. Ten minutes after reaching Market Street, he stood in front of St. Vincent DePaul.

There was a line leading in the front door. This would be the midday meal. Vince looked for Ronnie in the line. He showed the flier to several of the younger guys. They looked at him blankly, shaking their heads no. He wasn't sure they looked at the picture, or saw it.

Fishing in the park went far better. There was fresh air in the park. There didn't seem to be any air stirring around the line of homeless men and a few women. The air there was very stale.

He couldn't tell if anyone connected to the picture or not. Every face looked like that last face. The expression was the same as was the shaking head, no.

It seemed like a good idea when he had it, and he wasn't giving up after ten minutes, but the futility was already apparent. He was as likely to see Ronnie there as he was to have one of these men say he'd seen him and could take Vince to him. Vince had nothing else to do.

"Hi. I'm Father Joe. Can I help you?"

The smile was friendly and non-threatening. Vince held up the sketch for the next man in line.

"Ronnie Haggerty. What'd he do?" Father Joe said.

"You know him?"

"Sure. Good Catholic boy from Sioux Falls. No, Des Moines, Iowa. Back east. Hard to remember which is from where. There are so many."

"How the hell do you know that?" Vince asked.

"He's an Irish Catholic boy. Come on, Dr. Parsons. I'm a priest. We know all the Irish kids. They make themselves known to us. You can take the good Catholic boy out of the home, but you can't take the Catholic out of the boy."

"You know my name? You know him," Vince was amazed.

"You're big news. Come on. I'll get you a cup of coffee, and you can tell me why you need to find such a good Catholic boy. He's quite harmless."

Vince followed Father Joe Carroll through the doors of the St. Vincent DePaul Mission. The pinkish facade reminded Vince of the facade at Horton Plaza but with none of the opulence. In a minute he was seated in a small office and Father Joe disappeared, brining back two cups of coffee in styrofoam cups.

"We could use a doctor, doctor. Why don't you volunteer some of that high powered time of yours? The Lord, he'd smile upon you. Parsons," Father Joe said, trying out the sound of the name. "Certainly you're a fine Irish lad."

"I'm a neurosurgeon, Father. You get a lot of neurology cases?"

It wasn't like Vince hadn't given this idea a thought, but he wasn't sure he could handle the job. He wanted to get some idea of what he was in for before committing to giving up a few hours a week.

"Oh! I thought you were a doctor, …doctor. My mistake," Father Joe said without sounding mistaken.

"I am. I've never done general practice. Not since I interned. Truth is, I don't like people very much. I'm not sure I'd be very good at this kind of medicine."

"Most of these men wouldn't know the difference. They get sick, they stay sick, mostly they get better in time. It's that they must suffer so much already, a doctor could ease their journey."

"You need someone in general practice. Someone who would recognize a disease when he sees it."

"What I need is someone to prop up here to say cough, look in their mouths, hand them a lollipop and tell them they're fine. Most of them are hungry, malnourished, and suffering from exposure. Not as glamorous as the life of a big time neurosurgeon."

"Do you usually get your way, Father?"

"Lord knows we don't have anyone qualified now. We haven't for months. We do have some doctors and nurses that volunteer, but not lately. What I need is someone with time on his hands. Someone like you, Dr. Parsons."

"You drive a hard bargain," Vince said.

"I know you aren't interested in hearing about my troubles. You're here about yours. Ronnie Haggerty. Haven't seen him in two weeks or more. Funny thing, he's a regular at lunch a couple of times a week. I'd sit and talk with him for a few minutes. He likes our food and it is way better than no food.."

"I see," Vince said.

"He's the witness you need?"


"Too bad you don't have the time to hang around here. He'll be back sooner or later. One thing is for sure, boys his age always get hungry sooner or later. If you only had a reason to be here. You can never tell when he might show up. Volunteers dish out the food, work in the kitchen, and hand out clothes, when we have some."

"You're good, Father."

"I'd bet if he knew you needed his help, he'd help you. Most people are like that. Help out where they can."

"You're very good, Father."

"I'm in the service of the Lord."

"Could I use your phone, Father?"

"Certainly. I'll step out to see how lunch is going. I hope you find your boy, doctor. I'll keep my eyes open for you. Leave me your number just in case."

"Thanks, Father. I'll be seeing you."

Vince dialed a number and thought about what he might say. He was still formulating what to do with the rest of his life, but the short range plans seemed to include Father Joe and St. Vincent DePaul.

"Yea, Blanch, Dr. Parsons. I'm setting up shop down at St. Vincent DePaul. I need a competent nurse to assist me so I don't kill anyone. I can't pay much but if you can find me someone who doesn't mind treating the homeless and the needy, well, she's my girl. Dial me into our medical supply house. I've got a feeling I'll need some supplies down ere."

Dr. Parsons ordered general supplies that would no doubt be useful in treating cuts, bruises, and minor infections. There was no plan he could figure out. Start a line and start seeing what the people needed. Father Joe came back a few minutes later.

"Good, Dr. Parsons, you're still here. Can I assume you want to take lunch with us? Or is there another reason you are still here?"

"I heard you needed a doctor, Father?"

"Yes, it so happens I do have an opening for an eminently qualified physician, if you are interested."

"I'm interested, but no promises. Let me see what I can do, but if I don't think I can do the job, well, we'll play it by ear. My car is at my place and I'll have to get my bag out of it. I'll be back in an hour and we'll see just what I can do for your clientele. It'll give you time to let them know doctor's services are available later."

"Fine, doctor. I'll open up the clinic and get the word out. Should I save a lunch for you? I can promise you'll earn it."

"No. I'm not that hungry. Maybe dinner. I'll be back."

"Thanks, doctor. The Lord is going to smile upon you."

"One can only hope, Father."

By two o'clock Vince was seeing patients, most of whom needed a bath, and with one of the secretaries acting as his nurse, he spent four hours treating the walking wounded from San Diego's streets. It was mostly minor medicine with several cases of pneumonia being the worst of it. By six that evening he was seated across from Father Joe eating dinner off a styrofoam plate. He thought the food was surprisingly good, but he was surprisingly hungry.

"Watched you, doctor. You seemed to do okay."

"Vince. Father. Call me Vince."

"Vince, you didn't seem to run into any difficulties. I hope it wasn't too stressful for you."

"No, Father. I enjoyed it. I haven't dealt with real people in a long time. I've always been able to set up my own little world that circulates around me. It surprised me that taking care of little problems can be satisfying. Getting a smile for my troubles is surprisingly rewarding. A lot of them didn't say anything, just smiled when I took care of them."

"That's my pay. I work for the smiles," Father Joe said happily.

"When I came here today, I wanted help finding Ronnie. I was guided here by some street kids I helped. This morning I didn't have a job, now look at me."

"The Lord works in mysterious ways. You need to take what he puts in front of you. It all has a purpose, and you have a job here as long as you want it, Vince. You are needed here. We'll never turn you out."

"If they take away my license? If they send me to prison?"

"The Lord just can't let that happen, now can he?"

"I hope he is listening, Father. I sure hope he is listening."

"All I can tell you is he listened to me when I asked him to send me a doctor."

"I haven't been in church in a long time, Father."

"It's not so important to be in church, Vince, as long as your heart is in the right place. You're judged on your good works, not on church attendance."

Vince heard the words and he wished he still had a little faith. What he had was a never-ending line of people who needed a doctor. What he had was the prospect of going to prison and losing his license to practice medicine, because he couldn't prove his innocence.

Vince had never given anything away, especially his skills as a doctor. It made him feeling surprisingly good, except his back was constantly aching. It took him until the third day to start adjusting to what was now an endless line of patients.

Wendy, a nurse from Scripps, jumped at the change to work with him on her days off. She was professional and helpful in suggesting treatments. Connie and Toni joined his team the second week. Connie was retired and could work any time Vince worked, and she too wanted to work with him.

Vince had bills coming due and he put his Harbor Club penthouse on the market. His Mercedes dealer agreed to sell the Benz for him, once repairs were complete. The sailboat was paid for and he'd treated the owner of the marina a few years before, and even if he couldn't pay his slip rent for a while, he wouldn't be evicted.

These weren't decisions he'd made without a great deal of thought. There were attorney's bills and he might not escape a jail sentence, which put everything in jeopardy. He'd get rid of things he couldn't afford to maintain if he did go to jail. Vince Parsons was scaling down.

If he kept his freedom, and he was confident Wes Mathews would do all he could to keep him free, he would regroup and be in a position to decide what to do.

As tragic a turn as his life had taken, Vince found he had little time to think about his trouble. His one mission in life was to treat everyone in line one day and it not be dark when the last patient was gone. So far the line was never-ending and only exhaustion sent the untreated away until the next day.

It was afternoon when Wendy stood at the door. She leaned her body against the doorjamb, as Vince finished with a patient.

"I've got a boy here that wants to see the doctor. Says he needs five or six stitches on a cut in his upper arm. Has a professional looking dressing on it, but the bandage is filthy. He won't let me look at it. Says his doctor told him to see our doctor when we got one. That's you, I suspect."

"Well, tell him to take the stitches or not. I don't have time to fool with it, Wendy. I'm up to my eyeballs in things you can't do. Tell him, stitch or get. You're his doctor today."

Wendy chuckled, "Stitch or get. You need a coffee break. You've been at it for four hours straight. I need a coffee break."

"I'll never catch up if I keep stopping for breaks. Where do all these people come from?"

"Dr. Parsons, you'll never catch up. The world knows you're here and they're all in line. In my entire career I haven't seen this many sick people."

Vince looked up at the line snaking out the door, down the hallway, and out the front door of St. Vincent DePaul.

"Coffee. Large. Sugar only," I can use a sugar rush right now.

"No way, Dr. Parsons. You got to go get your own. You've got to stretch your legs. You know what they say happens if you don't stretch your legs every once in awhile."

"Vince. Call me Vince. If I go, will you go with me?" Vince said, looking up at her.

"Sure. They'll never notice. The line is always the same length. Maybe a plate of lunch," she suggested.

"No, I couldn't digest it knowing all the people are waiting. I dream one day we'll treat them all before I leave."

"You are a dreamer, Vince," Wendy said. "I'll take care of 'stitch or get' while you're finishing with him, Vince. Okay! Okay! Stand back. We'll be gone for ten minutes and we'll be back. Stand back and wait your turn," Wendy said like a sergeant in the Father Joe army.

"I'll be right back," Vince said, moving the next man in line out of the way to go over to where Wendy was working.

"Be back in five minutes," Vince said, as he moved out in the corridor.

"Hey, doc, your bandage got dirty," Doug said, recognizing Vince. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm not sure"

"I heard Father Joe had a new doctor. Tell her you started this and you'll finish it. Huh, doc?"

"Yea, he's my patient. Let me have a look. See if we need to amputate."

"Aw, doc," Doug complained.

Wendy picked up the boy's arm and looked at the healing wound.

"I don't remember your name," Vince confessed.

"Doug. You bandaged it in the park. Remember?"

"I remember you but not your name, Doug. It's healing fine. Let her go ahead and put a clean bandage on it. It's too late to stitch it up. It'll be fine if you keep the dirt out of it."

"You want some coffee, Doug? We're going on break."

"No. Coke. You buying?" Doug asked with a large smile.

"I think I can work something out with Father Joe. They have a soda machine somewhere. You know soda is poison, of course."

"Doc, soda is all there is. Gary's with me. He's getting me a plate. While I stood in line to see you, he stood in line to get our lunch. Could he have a soda too? I mean if you can afford it?"

"You know each other?" Wendy asked.

"That professional looking bandage? It was mine. Put a clean one on him and we'll finish a lot faster. How's your buddy?"

"Gary's fine. You can sit with us."

"We're going to get a bite to eat. I won't be long," Vince said to the men waiting in line.

"You taking your pills like I told you, Doug?" Vince asked.

"Yea, got 'em right here, doc."

"It's healing fine. The infection is almost gone. Take all those pills though or the infection might come back."

"Yes, sir."

Baked chicken, dressing, macaroni and cheese, with string beans. were featured in the plate of food. Doug had devoured his waiting plate before Wendy and Vince settled into their seats. Vince had bought each boy a can of Coke.

"Hey, doc, what are you doing here?" Gary asked.

"He's the new doc," Doug said.

"Neato," Gary said.

Vince took a few bites of his food and slid his plate in front of Doug.

"All right," Doug said, digging in.

"Ah, doc, what about me?" Gary complained.

Wendy slid her hardly touched plate over in front of Gary.

"Thanks. I don't want it if you're still hungry," Gary said, going to work on it as soon as Wendy indicated she'd had enough.

Angus sat in his car outside the restaurant where Vince and Jennifer had eaten the night of the accident. The waiter still hadn't shown up for work. He'd left a small pay check sitting in the manager's office, but he hadn't come back for it in a week.

It upset Angus not to be able to put all the pieces together. It had been two weeks and the waiter wasn't going to be any good as a witness after this length of time. It didn't stop the investigator in Angus from investigating.

"Michael Bowen, does he live here?"

"No, who are you?"

"I'm a private detective. I'm investigating a case. He's a witness I need to talk to."

"Got some ID, Mr. Private Eye?"

Angus flipped open his wallet so the woman could read his license.

"Left last week. A little more than a week ago. Maybe Monday or Tuesday. Has a sick relative up in L.A. he said."

"L.A.," Angus repeated, and he went back to sit in his car.

He drove to the hospital where the paramedics originated. He waited for the dispatcher to come off of break. He then went about asking for the names of the men who took the call that night.

"Bob Thomas and Jim Joy."

"Where do I find them."

"Where do you find them? You Irish?"

"Scot. Like in British. Scotland. Sean Connery Scotland."

"You look Irish. Is that anything like Scotch?"

"Nothing like Scotch, and certainly nothing like Scot. I need to talk to them this year."

"They're not here."

"When is their next shift?"

"Not here, Mr. Angus."

"Mr. McCoy. When will they be here?"

"McCoy, they won't be. Asked to be transferred sometime last week. Out of San Diego."

"Both of them?" Angus asked perplexed.

"I do dispatch. You'll have to ask them."

"Here's a card for our headquarters. They'll know where they went."

Angus sat out beside the ambulance bay for a long time. There was a bug in his brain that made no sense. It was like he was chasing his tale. He thought about the different booking documents Wes got. The waiter just up and disappeared. The paramedics transferred. The first two times he'd been there, they were off.

He knew the waiter and the paramedics weren't crucial to the case, but odds were that all three didn't vanish after the accident by coincidence. It defied the odds according to Angus' experience.

Angus wanted another drink, but he remembered the doctor in the case he was working. He'd wait until he got home. He went to the police station next. He sat talking about the old days with Sergeant Spiegel, who told Angus he was retiring at the end of the year.

"I need to talk to your officer, Art Powell. What time does he come in, Sarge? I can wait. I've run out of people who'll talk to me."

"Not available, Angus. He's on a special deal with the feds. Asked for him by name. A federal drug taskforce working a Mexican drug cartel. Their man got made. They wanted him."

"The feds wanted a city cop?"

"I just said that, Angus. Don't play with me."

"You're telling me the feds came in and asked for him by name?"

"You going deaf, Angus? That's what I said."

"You ever seen this before?"

"What? The Feds? Sure. I guess. I don't know? I'm a desk sergeant, Angus. Quit making it something it ain't."

"I'm working an accident he covered. Doctor hit a girl up by Laurel next to the park."

"Yea, rumor had it. What do you want from me?"

"Did he say anything about it? I just thought if I talked to him I could get some idea of my client's frame of mind. Detail work."

"I talked to him the Monday after the accident. He was ticked off a doctor hit her. He was irritated by something else. Can't say what. The girl died. We all hate that, Angus. We put on the vest, but it don't protect you inside. It could have been that. Maybe not. It was a couple of days later the feds came to ask for him."

"Did he say anything about the doctor drinking?"

"Maybe. It's not something I would remember. Nothing new."

"Say anything about the doctor asking for a blood test?"

"No, I'd remember something like that."

"Can you have him get in touch with me if he checks in with you. I need to hear what he has to say. Information isn't exactly flowing."

"When he's back to regular duty. You getting the doctor off?"

"Spiegel, I haven't figured out which end is up yet. I got a witness who vanished, a waiter who disappeared, two paramedics who've transferred, and a cop who, …. No, I don't have any idea what the hell I'm doing. I smell a rat, but he ain't talking either."

"Good luck. I wouldn't go looking for Powell if I were you. The feds wouldn't like it. Steer clear, Angus. Chase the other witnesses."

Once again Angus found himself sitting in his car thinking. He tried to go over everything he knew but he was overwhelmed by what he didn't know.

"Wes? Angus. You wanted me to call?"

"I've got the doctor's file. There's nothing in there we can use." "Wes, what I need is a detailed history of his activities in San Diego. Everything. Call him in. Tell him it's routine. Tell him not to leave anything out no matter how trivial.

"Let's see if there is a skeleton or a collaboration that might explain what we're seeing. There could be something in his history to give us some idea of what's going on."

"Do you have anything new?" Wes asked.

"Nothing. I've got nothing"

"Makes me feel like I'm handling my first case again," Wes said.

"He's working down at St. Vincent DePaul," Angus said.

"Dr. Parsons? Our Dr. Parsons?"

"Yea, our doctor is volunteering his time. I was told our witness eats lunch there a few times a week. I heard they had a new doctor. It's him. The good doctor was a step ahead of me."

"I'll be damn. He fooled me. I didn't figure him the type. He's the prototype for every intensely driven professional I've known. You know, doctor, lawyer, and private detective types. I'll call him in to discuss the preliminary hearing. I'll have him dictate his history to a secretary, go step by step to account for his time in San Diego. We'll see if his version lines up with yours," Wes said.

"You think he's not telling us everything, Wes?"

"There's got to be a reason every lead in this case goes cold. It could be something he's done to piss someone off. Come in on our usual day and we'll compare notes."

Whenever a case took on a life of its own, Angus knew to stand back and take a long look at it. There was a reason for everything and he intended to find the reason behind his investigation's going so cold.

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