by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Doctors, Lawyers, and Private Eyes

Dr. Parsons worked the rest of the week with Connie as his nurse. He was sure he'd see everyone in San Diego by Friday. Connie was a no-nonsense nurse, who could diagnose faster than he could. The first sound of disagreeableness coming from a patient and she offered him the door as the solution to his ills. The grumbling stopped immediately as she went about her duties.

Vince no longer felt guilty about leaving the long lines standing in the hall, while he ate or went for coffee. No matter how many men he saw, there were always more to see. They stepped aside when Connie led the way. Vince followed her and returned after relaxing for a few minutes.

The afternoon after Angus told Wes what he had in mind, Vince was sitting in his attorney's office, dictating a detailed history of his time in San Diego to a secretary. He was grateful it only went back that far and didn't stretch back to his marriages and divorces.

He'd lived a sterling life in San Diego. At first it was difficult finding a hospital to settle into a life as a respected neurosurgeon. His memory was fresh and his San Diego years were easy to recall.

At first glance neither Wes or Angus saw anything suspect. Angus took his copy to read the doctor's words in his spare time. He was back on stakeout at Plato's, which gave him extra time.

Vince sat in his car for a while, after the day's doctoring was done. Dark was setting in on San Diego, but he wasn't ready to go home. He drove up into Balboa Park, having nothing in particular on his mind. He could see his witness, or not.

There was something about the park and the people in it that drew him there. Maybe he'd soon live there. It was pleasant and relatively quiet. It wasn't as confining as staying inside.

A restlessness had overtaken him. The streets were better lit than he remembered. People walked beside the street. He looked at the small band of kids seated up under the trees. Two figures leaped up, racing toward the street.

"Hey, doc!" Gary said, "What's up?"

"Nothing, really. Just taking a ride."

"He ain't here. Give me your home number? I'll let you know if I see him. I'm always here," Doug said.

"You boys eaten?" Vince asked, being sure of the answer.

"Me. I already ate once today, doc," Gary said. "Don't want to get used to eating more often."

"I'm hungry," Doug said, opening the passenger door. "We going to Jack In The Box?"

"I don't know. Maybe," Vince said. "You coming, Gary."

"Sure. I can eat again."

"Might help you grow," Vince said.

"Never though of that," Gary said, sitting in the backseat.

"When's the last time you had a shower?"

"Who?" Doug said.

"Either of you."

"When did it rain last?" Gary asked.

"April," Doug said. "Always rains in April."

"I guess I'm due then," Gary said.

"You come down for that blood test, Tuesday," Vince ordered.

"Yea. Sure, doc," Gary said disinterested.

"You too, Doug. Can you bring him down Tuesday?"

"Yes, sir," Doug said. "We'll be there."

"You want to stop to take burgers in. One of you have a better idea? I'm all ears. We can nuke something. I don't cook."

"I can feed us all for twenty bucks. Stop at Boney's in Hillcrest. Give me twenty bucks and I'll fix something healthy that includes all food groups," Doug claimed.

"You cook?" Vince asked. "Sounds like an offer I can't refuse."

"Yea! I know my way around the kitchen. I lived with a cook one time, until he got tired of me. He showed me how to cook."

"Shit. I wouldn't give him twenty cents. He'll probably take off with it," Gary said.

"Screw you, midget. I'm not like you."

"That's right, make fun of the short guy," Gary complained.

"Both of you shut up or I'll drop you off. We'll stop by the market. Doug can fix dinner. You both can get a shower, maybe sleep on my couch if you can give all this up for a night."

"Cool," Gary said. "Where's the Benz?"

"I'm selling it," Vince said.

"Aw, doc, I didn't even get a ride in it. It's not fair," Gary said.

"Life isn't fair, but you don't need me to tell you that."

Vince wasn't sure how smart it was taking in two teenage boys for the night. It might not do them any good but it made him feel better.

It took Doug ten minutes to shop. He brought back a bag of groceries and gave Vince three dollars and some change back. Vince was surprised by how much food twenty dollars bought. He figured Doug couldn't do worse than some of the food he'd had delivered.

The boys were amazed from the time he parked in the secure garage. Doug carried the bag with his purchases. They continued to be amazed by the penthouse and the view of the lights along the ocean at land's end. Both boys spent time on the balcony looking out to the west.

Doug took half an hour getting everything ready to cook. He found most everything he needed from the visits Vince's mother made.

She insisted on cooking for him. Over the years she'd stocked his kitchen with the cooking essentials. Vince rarely ate there, except when he ordered to eat in.

Vince couldn't help but notice a lot of activity with chopping and mixing. Gary leaned, watching, nibbling a piece of celery left unguarded as Doug moved around like he knew what he was doing.

"So you going to give me your number, doc?" Doug asked, standing in the doorway to the kitchen wiping his hands on a tea towel. "I'll see him before you do."

"What are you fixing?"

"Chicken and rice with some veggies mixed in. I'm a one dish wonder. Saves a lot of clean up. I like doing casseroles. You really get your money's worth, but I don't know what you like. Chicken is safe."

"My mother's a good cook. She stocked the kitchen. I never learned how to boil water. I can do a mean TV dinner. Almost never burn them. You ever thought of doing it for a career?"

"What. TV dinners?" Doug quipped.

"No. Cooking. Working in a restaurant. Good chef can always find a job."

"Nah, no one wants to hire me. No diploma. No history. I never figured that one out. I want to go to work, but I can't because I ain't worked. Someone stupid makes a lot of rules for no reason."

"Yea, why don't you have a diploma?"

"Me? I don't know. Didn't hang around long enough."

"What happened? You seem smart enough."

"C's. I did mostly C's. My mother married George."

"You didn't like him?"

"I didn't mind him. He hated me. Belted me around. One day he belted me and I figured he'd kill me sooner or later. I was sixteen. I figured that was old enough. I left."

"What happened?"

"You take it a day at a time, doc."

"Here's my number. I usually have my phone within reach."

"You the guy that hit Sharon? Rumor has it you did. I wondered if you were."

"Yea. She's the one I hit. She walked out from between parked cars and right in front of my car."

"Ronnie saw it?"

"Yep. Ronnie saw it."

"That's bogus. He should help you out. Can't be easy on him though. Sharon was his girlfriend. When he was in the park anyway."

"Sounds like Sharon. She was a space cadet. Always nice to us, but she liked her drugs," Gary said.

"We'll tell him he needs to help you square things. I'll call you if I see him," Doug said.

"Where do you go from here?" Vince said.

"From here? Me? Who knows. Up on the lawn. Down under a tree. Over to the ocean. I don't know. Whatever comes up, that's where I go. It's not like there's a plan to it, doc." Doug said.

"What about your future? Don't you think about your future?"

"I'm with him. That's my future. He takes care of me, when he isn't aggravating me. He likes to order me around," Gary said. "He's cool enough, I guess."

"Future? There's no future. I got nothing. I won't ever have nothing. I'm stupid and poor. No where to run. No future. Not for me. My future is catching a meal tomorrow, if I'm lucky."

"You can become a cook. By the smell of it, you would do okay. You've got to use what you have. Start at a diner flipping burgers if need be. Let someone train you. You'll do fine if you show them what you can do."

"Someone else to belt me around. Adults can't be trusted, doc. They're mean and they turn on you in a minute. Don't know I want to be beholding to none."

"You don't trust me?" Vince asked, wondering what went on inside a kid's head after he was kicked around long enough.

"You want something, doc. Sure, I trust you'll be nice as long as we might help you. Once you find Ronnie, won't be no need for us. I know it's nothing personal and I'll help you if I can. You been nice."

"I see. What's the story with Gary?"

"Gary? He's a kid. I try to help him. Keep him out of bad cars," Doug explained.

"Bad cars?" Vince asked.

"Guys come up in the park looking for kids. You check their eyes. Some guys got bad eyes. You stay away from them. I know the difference, Gary don't. I aim to see he gets old enough to learn."

"You boys need to be off the street."

"You going to adopt us, doc?" Doug retorted.

"I can't be sure I'm not on the way to jail. I can feed you but I don't know what else I can do. You belong somewhere that's safe."

"Lots of mean people out there. No future in letting someone take you in. They turn on you and you're back on the street. At least on the street we know where we are. We know the score."

"You're smart. You know the street, but I can't help but feel you don't belong out there. You could do something with your life. I mean you could finish school and go to college if you tried."

"You been smoking something, doc. Guys like me don't go to school. We go to jail. Sooner or later I'll cross the path of the wrong cop and he's going to see to it I do time. I'll never see school again."

"Ever been on a boat?" Vince asked, changing the subject.

"Me? Not really. I went fishing off a pier once."

"I have a boat. It's a sailboat. A little more work than speed boats."

"You do? Damn. You got it all, doc. Big house on top of the city, Mercedes Benz, boats. How do people get so much stuff when other people don't got shit?" Gary said.

"I don't know, Gary, but I won't have much for long. I have the penthouse on the market. I'm selling the Mercedes. The boat, I'll keep it if I can, or I might end up in Balboa Park near you guys."

"Why's that?" Doug asked.

"Well, Doug, when you have money, you think you'll always have money. I've given my attorney a passel and it isn't enough. I don't know if there is enough. I can't keep living like I have a never ending supply, when it's running out. So, I've got to liquidate my assets."

"That's bogus. I thought only guys like us got shit on," Doug said. "I'd help you if I could, doc. I'm a little short at the moment."

"Damn. That sucks. It's got to be worse losing everything you got than never having anything in the first place," Gary said. "I sure like this place. Maybe you won't have to sell it."

"It's already on the market. I don't think it'll take long to sell."

"Yea. I want to shower before dinner. Wish I had something to wear so I didn't smell so bad."

"I've got some short robes in my closet. You can wear them while you do laundry downstairs in the laundry room. There's soap under the sink in the kitchen," Vince said.

"Cool! You go shower, Doug. I'll get the laundry started," Gary said. "I'll shower and you put the clothes in the dryer."

"That'll have us clean about the time dinner is ready," Doug said.

The mood had changed and life became about doing laundry, getting the boys clean, and waiting for Doug's meal to be ready to eat.

Vince thought it was pretty good, knowing he couldn't do it himself. He was impressed that the boys were not simply house broken but polite and mannerly.

Their language was a bit on the raw side, but he knew there was no one to set an example for them. He did more for them than he'd done for anyone in a long time. Like working at St. Vincent DePaul made him feel better than he could have imagined.

Both boys seemed grateful, cleaned up after the meal, getting the dishes washed and put away. There was plenty left over for later, when the boys would no doubt be hungry again. The couch in his living room was a sectional that gave the boys plenty of room to sleep, after they watched a kung fu extravaganza on television.

Early the next morning he roused the boys and drove to the marina on Mission Bay, stopping first for donuts and coffee. He assigned the boys cleaning chores as he prepared to set sail and enjoy a relaxing Sunday on the water. Both boys were excited from the minute their feet hit the deck.

Vince hadn't had the boat out in over a year and it took him a little time and some advice from Doug to remember how everything worked. They set sail before nine o'clock. Vince leaned back against the tiller with the wind in his hair as he imagined he didn't have a care in the world. He thought about sailing out the mouth of the bay and into the Pacific Ocean to disappear forever, but he knew forever wouldn't last long and he had responsibilities.

Vince was amused to find himself sailing the bay with two homeless boys. They were both enraptured by the experience. Gone was their rough edges and the street smart demeanor. Both giggled, dipping their fingers in the surging water, kids again if only for a few hours, sunning themselves on the bow of the boat. They seemed not to have a care in the world.

Vince had all the breaks and privileges possible, good parents, a good education, and enough drive to make the most of it. As they sailed along the bay, he didn't feel so far away from two homeless kids. They all faced hard times with no guarantees there was a future for them. Except for a young girl walking out in front of his car, he would have remained oblivious to these facts of life.

Vince was surprisingly relaxed. He enjoyed handling the boat and being on the water. They stopped long enough to buy some sandwiches, ate, swam off the sailboat, and watched the powerful speedboats maneuver further out in the bay. It was another perfect day in paradise and the three of them enjoyed every minute of it.

"You could live on the boat," Gary said.

"Yes, it's paid for. I could live on it," Vince said. "I haven't really had much time for sailing."

"Oh, doc, make time. This is the life. I could get used to this," Doug said happily.

"Selling your place. That means no more showers," Gary said.

"He can bathe in the bay," Doug said.

"There's water I hook up to at the dock. There's a shower head in the bathroom. It's just big enough to stand in, but it's a shower."

"Cool," Gary said.

The day was ending way too soon. They were all tired. Vince was buttoning up the boat just before dark, after they rinsed it down and removed all the remnants of the day's eating. Both boys glowed red from getting so much sun, but they weren't complaining. They were too tired to complain.

"Want to stop at the store? I'll fix you another home cooked meal before you drop us off," Doug asked.

"Sure. Why not? I've got to go to St. Vincent DePaul first thing in the morning. I'll drop you in the park before I go there if you like?"

"Cool! Give us one more night of safety," Gary said, yawning.

"Where do you sleep? I mean usually," Vince asked.

"In the canyons," Gary said.

"How about I fix you some baked salmon? It was on sale at Boney's yesterday. Broccoli. Baked potatoes, and peach pie. I can bring it in under twenty. Got that much left, doc?"

"I'd pay twice that much for a good salmon dinner just for myself," Vince confessed.

"Sour cream is a little more, but they say it makes a baked potato better," Doug explained.

"Never eat a baked potato without it," Vince said.

"That stuff's nasty," Gary said. "It's called sour for a reason."

"You've made a sale, Doug. You're going to spoil me."

In clean clothes and after an early breakfast at the Spice Rack by Pacific Beach, Vince reluctantly took the boys back to the park before going down to St. Vincent DePaul. He still was reluctant to let them off and yet he knew getting too close to them and ending up in jail would simply prove to them you can't trust anyone.

Being a doctor was who he was, so he ignored the fact his patients couldn't afford a doctor and he was performing a service that mattered. He felt helpless when it came to Doug and Gary. He did what came to mind when it came to mind, but he wasn't in a position to offer any long term security to his two wards.

Being on the verge of losing everything made him more aware of two boys who had nothing to lose. His life was all about his career, his reputation, his connections, and his climb to the top. He'd been on automatic pilot too long, seeing only what he chose to see.

"Thanks, doc," Doug said, leaning on the passenger window. "You're okay. I'll keep my eye out for Ronnie."

"Here," Vince said, handing Doug a ten dollar bill. "For lunch."

"You didn't take us to raise, doc," Doug said, taking the ten. "I appreciate you being a righteous dude. Not many out here, doc."

"You boys be careful. I want your butts down at St. Vincent DePaul Tuesday morning. I'll take your blood and I'll handle the results myself. We'll keep it between you and me," Vince said.

"Yea, I guess we can do that. It don't make no difference, doc," Doug said, resigned to the life he led and the consequences in it.

"It'll make a difference to me. You keep Gary out of trouble."

"Ah, doc, I'm fine," Gary complained. "I know what I'm doing."

"That's what scares me," Vince said.

The boys backed away from the window. Vince drove away with a powerful idea in his mind. He had a life and no future. The boys had no life but were all future, unless they got into the wrong car before the future came their way.

Angus McCoy continued his investigation, as frustrating as it was. He agreed to meet with Wes first thing Monday morning. When Wes wanted to know about the progress, Angus said they'd talk about it when he came to the office, which told Wes progress was slow.

Wes knew Vince's case took a wrong turn early on. The logical sequence of events he'd come to expect in the kind of case that was routine for him, never developed in the usual predictable way. That didn't mean he would change his approach. He'd stick with it until he could figure out why this case departed so completely from other cases like it. Angus was as good an investigator as he'd had, and he wouldn't stop until he was satisfied he'd done all he could for Dr. Parsons.

The preliminary hearing was the following week and there was no sign the prosecution intended to blink, and if they didn't blink it would go to trial. Wes was best at trial. He captivated a jury, had command of the facts, and left nothing to chance. In this case he wasn't too anxious to get to court too soon.

Wes was a big man, looking distinguished with his silver hair. He knew all the subtleties of the legal system and he knew his way around the San Diego court system. He knew his role, knew when to charge forward and when to hold back. He could caress his way to what he was after or hammer out a decision that favored his client. He left no stone unturned.

Angus was as tall as Wes and he too was a large man. He'd done the usual private detecting when he first came to San Diego, after retiring from the Chicago Police Department. He met Wes, worked a case for him, and he provided evidence that got the result Wes needed.

Angus looked younger, having brown hair with a red tint that grew more subtle each year. Angus was naturally large and Wes more had grown into being the good sized man he was. Both men were uniquely qualified for their jobs and took them seriously.

Angus shook Wes' hand as he was let into his office. This wasn't going to be a happy get-together. The questions that still surrounded the Vince Parsons case still outnumbered the answers. This meeting was to see if they could come up with a direction to pursue.

"What have you found for me? What are people saying about the good doctor? Let's take it from the beginning and see what we have."

"From the beginning? The whole two weeks. I've got nothing."

"Still?" Wes said, looking up from Vince's file. "None of them?"

"Nothing. They are telling me nothing. They don't exist. They are phantoms, or I am. They are no one and tell me nothing."

"I don't understand it, Angus. I send you out for a word and you bring me a sentence. I send you out for a paragraph and you bring me a chapter. Nothing. You haven't run one of them down?"

"That's not quite accurate. I have plenty, but it doesn't help us."

"Talk to me. What do you have? Where have the rest gone?"

"The girl, Jennifer, she won't talk to me. My first interview I talked to her through the door. She doesn't answer her phone, return my calls, or even come to the door since that first visit."

"What do you think? She's in no trouble. Why wouldn't she want to help him? You think he's a bad lover?"

"I don't know anything with a door between us."

"What else have you not learned? Be specific."

"Waiter at the restaurant. Gone. Left his check behind. That worries me. Worked the weekend after the accident. Hasn't been back since. I went to his room. Moved out. No forward. Nothing. That's not the worst of it."

"It gets worse?" Wes asked. "Do tell."

"Paramedics. Both transferred. I haven't nailed them down yet. My best guess is they transferred to Los Angeles. Both asked for a transfer a week after the accident. They weren't friends."

"Curious," Wes said.

"You want the topper?"

"Can't wait," Wes said, sounding like he could.

"The cop? Gone. Can't talk to him. Went undercover for the feds, they say. I was warned not to try to contact him. He warned me."

"Sounds serious."

"It's bad form to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation. I don't like being warned."

"A local cop working for the feds? That typical?"

"Never saw it before."

"Is this an episode of the Twilight Zone we've stumbled into?" Wes said, leaning back in his chair to think.

"Just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn't it now?" Angus said.

"Well, what do you suggest? We can't go to court with this. Can you find these people?"

"Sure, Wes. I can find anyone. I'd do it even if you didn't ask. I don't like road blocks, and I don't like warnings. Something's going on, and this Scotsman plans to find out what."

"What do your instincts say, Angus? Give me a read."

"Not sure. Too little to go on. I spent the entire week trying to figure out what I think. Every lead goes nowhere. Nothing happens this way without help. For the life of me I can't figure out who's behind it. In Chicago when something went this wrong, either a politician or a high powered cop was behind it. There's a piece missing. Once I have that piece, I'll have the answers."

"You going to find that piece, Angus?"

"$64,000 dollar question. I usually do, …sooner or later."

"Sooner would be nice. Seeing our good doctor going off to prison, while we're chasing our tails, isn't going to impress him."

"That's why you make the big bucks, Wes. You can't let that happen. I'm just a dumb flatfoot. No one expects much from me."

"I won't if you get me what I need. We need that witness."

"It all started when Ronnie Haggerty disappeared. I was on him like white on rice, Wes. I knew his routine, what his habits were. I was cruising, eating my Twinkies and drinking my coffee, waiting for him to walk into my arms. I'm still waiting."

"What do we do? We have the preliminary next week. I'd like to get the doctor his life back by then."

"Not going to happen in a week, Wes. This is well laid out. I'll follow what I have as far as it takes me. Sooner or later, I'll get my hands on one of them. That's when I'll know what's going on, but this stone wall is too solid to unravel it in a week."

"We have Jennifer," Wes lamented. "But she's no help. She wasn't sure how much Vince drank," Wes said, flipping through pages and tossing a copy of the police report to Angus. "Prosecution will call her. I won't. Doesn't do us any good."

"No waiter," Angus remind him. "No help there. It's weeks now. His testimony on Vince's drinks is useless, but someone got to him."

"No waiter. No paramedics. No cop, no witness; coincidence is one thing, this isn't that."

"No one that helps us is still in San Diego," Angus said. "But we have Jennifer."

"Why? What can anyone gain by railroading the doctor? He's a hard worker. Good reputation. He'll never be voted father of the year, but his kids aren't engineering this. The oldest is twelve.

"A bit arrogant, but doctors and lawyers earn that right, if we're good. Who did he piss off, Angus? Who wants to take him down? Another doctor? A nurse? Jilted lover?" Wes said. "How could they pull off so many disappearances without anyone but us noticing?"

"What does anyone have to gain? Who? Why? Feds got the cop. Paramedics and waiter in the wind. Missing witness. Who can make those things happen?" Angus asked.

"Who, Angus? Talk to me."

"Let's take a broader approach. I have a fellow owes me a favor. Works for a television network. Had a girlfriend making his life miserable. I talked her out of it. He kept his career. We'll get the story out through his network. I'll say I'm looking for where the girl belongs.

"I don't like doing it this way but it's all I've got to tell him. I'll give him the details of the accident. Ask for the public's help in finding her folks. See what happens. What do you think?"

"Go for it, Angus. It's a good idea. Let whoever is behind the stone wall know we're beating the bushes for him."

"I figure one of these folks might be within earshot. They might have talked to someone about the fix being in. They might want to tell their story. Get on television. Get their fifteen minutes."

"Pretty big net, Angus. I like it."

"The doc's on a railroad train. I aim to get him off before we reach the end of the line," Angus said with determination.

"Go with your instincts. You've never failed me yet. If the answers are out there, you'll find them."

"For the good doctor's sake, I hope you're right, Wes."

"I'll take another crack at the prosecutor. See if there isn't a plea deal in our future. So far he's shown no interest in dealing. This week's prosecutor is okay. They've got Harvey Morton on the case now."

"What about Rhodes? I thought Rhodes was on the case?" Angus said.

"Last week was Tim Lamb. We began with Doug Rhodes. Why do they keep switching prosecutors? Anyway, he hasn't talked to me either, but he's only had the case since yesterday. Says he needs to get familiar with the case before we talk."

"I'll get her picture out with a west coast alert on it. Ask for anyone with information about this unidentified girl, killed in a San Diego automobile accident. I'll ask him not to make it sensational."

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