by Rick Beck

Chapter 13

As Time Passes

By the beginning of Vince's third month working at the clinic at St. Vincent DePaul, he had a nurse working each shift he worked. His legal problems were hardly ever mentioned any longer. Father Joe joked that Vince sure did attract the ladies, but it was only a joke. Most of the nurses were happily married with children.

The nurses took up the slack and allowed Vince to work at what had become a fairly comfortable pace, six days a week. Once he came to grips with the fact there were always more patients, he stopped thinking he could reach the end of the line. He treated the diseases that come from being homeless, trying to keep them from getting sicker.

The closer he got to his trial date the harder he worked. It was easiest when he didn't think about what was coming. On the Saturday before trial he worked with Karen Cross. She was the newest nurse and one who volunteered for Saturday service with Vince. New to San Diego and unmarried, she liked keeping busy.

"What are you doing for dinner tonight?" Vince asked.

"I'm not sure. Probably pizza," Karen answered.

"We can have pizza together. Eat on my sailboat," Vince said, knowing immediately he sounded tacky and he wanted to take the words back.

"Doctor, I'm not looking for love. With that in mind, yes we can."

Karen was also twice divorced. Her children were grown. Her second marriage ended so badly, she's sworn off men. There was no need in her life for a man, but Dr. Parsons was different. She followed Vince's car once he'd picked up the pizza.

Vince had held onto his expensive wine glasses from his penthouse. They drank the tart Gallo wine he poured out of the gallon jug into them. Pretense was all but gone from Vince's life. He worried about being confined to a smaller space than the twenty-four foot sailboat.

He talked to Wes less but little had changed. Wes hoped for a break but he didn't want a postponement, because it would delay the outcome Vince wanted. Angus was still looking for the eyewitness without success.

The last thing Vince needed was to complicate his life, or anyone else's, with romance. Eating with a pleasant woman made it seem like he still had a life, regardless of what hung over his head. It took an effort for him to stay upbeat and positive, but as long as there was some hope, he'd not be beaten down.

Angus staked out Plato's one more time. His Twinkies had grown tasteless, but Mildred made the best coffee in the world. It somehow wasn't enough to keep him wide awake. This could be the night Ronnie walked up the sidewalk toward Plato's apartment, but after dozens of nights waiting for him, the prospects had diminished. Angus was there because there was nothing else he could do for the good doctor and he'd do no less.

When he got tired of looking at the front of Plato's place, he drove up and parked in Balboa Park. He recalled a drug case he'd been on for month after month in Chicago. They rotated which one of them stood watch in which of the drug kingpin's haunts. After seven months, with a Twinkie in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, the man walked right past Angus' car. Angus had Twinkies and coffee everywhere, but he got his man without firing a shot.

One night a half a block from Plato's, Angus was more dozing than watching when there was a rap upon his window. He nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Damn man, you scared the shit out of me," Angus complained to a tall thin black man in shades. "What?"

"You need to move," the man said without a threat in his voice.


The man reached inside his jacket. Angus reflexively reached for his 38 police special. It was home in the locked cabinet in his bedroom closet. He was relieved to find himself looking into an open ID with FBI stamped across it.

"FBI. What the fuck are you doing here? I'm a private detective," Angus said indignant, reaching for his ID.

"Mr. McCoy, I know who you are. You are parked in the middle of an FBI investigation. We need you to leave and not come back."

"Plato?" Angus questioned. "He's a lightweight. FBI investigation?"

"We aren't in the habit of discussing FBI cases with investigators. What you need to know is, if you fail to leave you will be interfering with an FBI investigation. You don't want to do that."

Angus knew what kind of lawyer Wes was, and he'd seen him pull innocent verdicts out in cases with less doubt in them than this one. He could do it but he didn't like doing it that way. This time there wasn't any choice. Every lead became a dead end.

Angus was angry when he went back to reading the transcripts from when Vince testified for the defense in four separate cases ten years earlier. He'd read them on a computer in the courthouse, where all transcripts were stored. He wasn't satisfied with what was on the computer and he asked for copies of the original transcript, which had been sitting beside his easy chair for two weeks.

He found it interesting reading. The testimony of Dr. Parsons was compelling. The man had an excellent mind. He paid particular attention to detail. The defense was successful each time he testified on their behalf. He earned his handsome fee as an expert witness.

Dr. Parsons testimony reminded Angus of how Wes practiced law. Angus felt it was comparable, even if he didn't know what most of it meant. Angus knew enough about the law to read each page, line by line, to see what led to a not guilty decision in each case. Dr. Parsons was persuasive and in command of the facts. Under cross examination he was unflappable. Angus read on, still waiting for the bell to go off in his head, but realizing this too might be a dead end.

Vince danced on the rear of the boat to the music that came from his expensive sound system, after dinner. Even Karen was surprised she'd said yes to an invitation to dance. Dr. Parsons was a very nice man and she admired his dedication to people whom few others sought to help. She knew about the trial. The whispers said, Dr. Parsons might be in prison for years to come.

Under the circumstances, Vince seemed happy, enjoying the feel of a woman in his arms without reading romance into it. He'd always enjoyed dancing, as part of the mating game. Now it was a pleasant way to finish a nice day.

Everything had changed for Vince. Dancing to enjoy the music and the dance made him feel more alive. Being out in the fresh night air invigorated him. He hadn't had a sexual thought or urge in some time. He merely enjoyed the moments of freedom he had, losing himself in each one.

Vince felt good. He was happy and he didn't remember ever being happy before. He was driven and professional. His entire life had been about achieving and proving he was better than everyone else. He'd slowly dissolved all his assets, save the sailboat, which for him represented the cheapest living he could do, but it was some of the best living he'd ever done.

By the time the case was over he'd owe Wes Mathews a bundle.

He'd never owed money he couldn't pay before, but it wasn't like he one day wouldn't be able to pay. At the moment he had no income and nothing left to sell. Vince made a point of paying every dime as the bills came until now, and he told Wes he'd pay what he owed at a later date if he went to jail and sooner if he didn't.

Angus had stopped billing hours. He specialized in results and now it was personal. He was a better investigator than the results showed. He was insulted by the way someone had managed to engineer the case in a way that kept him from getting what he needed to break the case open. He was left with a lot of loose ends and no proof to substantiate his theory concerning what was going on.

Angus shuffled through the copies of the original transcripts, once he finished reading the last one. He shuffled and reshuffled the papers, until he had two pages he put side by side, looking at the name of the prosecutor involved in both cases. He smiled pleasantly.

"Bingo," he said, picking up the phone.

"Wes, Angus. We need to talk pronto."

"Angus, it's Saturday night. My lovely wife has made me a wonderful meal. We intend to sit down, eat it, have drinks, and you can take it from there."

"I found it, Wes. I've got the answer to who stands behind the stone wall."

"You know my wife hates you, Angus?"

"Have her set another plate. I can use a celebratory meal. I sure as hell earned this one."

"How long, Angus?" Wes asked without excitement in his voice.

"I'm on my way."

Angus sat sipping his scotch as Wes sat in his slippers in his easy chair, looking over the papers Angus brought him.

"What do you suggest we do?" Wes asked.

"Don't you see who it is? That's how it all happened. He has a grudge against the good doctor. He's in a position to make everything that's happened happen. Think about it."

"Angus, I deal in evidence, proof. This isn't proof of anything. It's a possible motive that could explain a dozen irregularities in this case."

"He has motive and opportunity. It's more proof of wrong doing than they have against Vince."

"I understand. This is like tempting a starving man by setting a banquet just out of reach. I see where you want to go with this. It is tempting. What it isn't, is proof."

"It's Wendell damn Clark, the District Attorney himself. Dr. Parsons was personally responsible for beating him twice at trial. Vince's testimony was instrumental in Wendell Clark's only two defeats at trial. It's retribution plain and simple."

"It's speculation plain and simple. I need evidence. I can't use this. It's genius you found it, but how do I use it in court?"

"It gives us someone to look at. Changes the momentum."

"How long did it take you to find this?" Wes said, comparing the pages with Wendell Clark's signature on them.

"I don't know. This is the third time I asked for it, but I figured it would be on paper, so I called someone who works in the old files section at the courthouse. He owed me a favor and he went down and pulled out the original transcripts and copied them for me."

"Does everyone in San Diego owe you a favor, Angus?"

"I don't know everyone, Wes. I just know the people it pays to know when it's game time."

"Did I ever tell you that you're probably the best investigator ever?"

"That would be Sherlock Holmes, Wes."

"Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, Angus."

"He is not," Angus objected like he was twelve years old.

"With him disposed of, you're the best investigator I know."

"How many investigators do you known, Wes?" Angus asked.

"I know you, and I'm happy for it. You can add Dr. Parsons to the list of people owing you a favor. Now go get some corroboration to go along with this information so I can introduce it as evidence of tampering.

"Hamilton is not going to go for me calling the District Attorney of San Diego to testify in one of his department's cases. I'll need something that ties one of the irregularities directly to Wendell. He's too smart to leave a trail."

"Perry Mason would introduce this as evidence," Angus observed.

"He's a fictional character, Angus. It's easy for him to pull miracles out of his butt. Real attorney's aren't encouraged to do that."

"Isn't anyone real? All the good guys are fictional," Angus said.

"Judge Hamilton is real and he doesn't want anyone pulling anything out of anywhere."

"Take him out for drinks, Wes. Loosen him up," Angus suggested.

"That might work for you and me, but this is a DUI case and I'd need to invite Ben Green to keep from being cited for contempt by the Hammer. He is a by the book judge. We might want to keep it by the book just this once."

"I've done all I can. I've put the missing piece in place. You've got to figure out what to do with it, Wes."

"Yes, and while this explains how we could make so little progress on what ordinarily would have been a by the numbers investigation, there's still our missing eyewitness. He would assure the right verdict," Wes said, giving Angus a steely stare.

"He's not a fictional character?"

"No," Wes said firmly. "You found people who know him."

"Damn it, Wes. Can't you let me celebrate for a few minutes? I came over here with the case all wrapped up. "

"Ronnie Haggerty is more important to us than ever, Angus. We need him on the stand to get the right outcome. He's our hole card. We know they've stacked the deck. Our eyewitness trumps their dirty tricks. Find him, Angus. We can't let tem win on a foul."

"There's no way to go after Wendell? I know he's behind this."

Wes sat for a minute sipping his drink. Angus sipped from his.

"Use your investigative skill. Get the paperwork out of Vince's file. Look up each prosecutor that's been on this case. One might talk to you, Angus. Could verify Wendell's been a naughty boy. If you don't have any luck there, find a prosecutor who was on the case, left the case, and has since left the prosecutor's office. It's possible someone was told to do something he didn't like. Wendell couldn't risk keeping a guy like that around his offices, especially if he knows something."

"That's a tall order, Wes. Those boys don't tell tales out of school."

"How many times did you get copies of the transcripts before you found what you were looking for?"

"Point well taken. Now I can't even finish my drink. I've got to drive."

"Thanks, Angus," Wes said, walking him to the door.

Karen stayed until midnight. They listened to soft music and made small talk, but it was all downhill, after she asked about his legal circumstances. She wanted to wish him well in court the following week, but it took the air out of the conversation.

Vince was prepared for the worst but talking about it reminded him he was helpless. His life was on hold. He had no control over what was going to happen. Letting it preoccupy him was a bad idea.

After Karen left, Vince went to bed. The motion of the water relaxed him as if he didn't have a care in the world. He thought a long time about going to trial before drifting off to sleep.

Sunday was a pleasant, sunny day. Vince got up and headed for his car. He drove to Judy's Big Kitchen where he ate blueberry pancakes and drank good coffee. He didn't eat out much any longer but this week he was going to pull out all the stops. No meals out of cartons on the boat, no dishes, no cleanup, and no menu planning.

He'd made a deal with Les Forbes at the marina to store his boat. Les told him the slip was his and he'd see to the boat himself, until Vince could resume residence there. Vince knew Les regarded him as his savoir. His serious operation was successful, and Les had resumed a normal life. For that Dr. Parsons got special consideration.

On the way back to the boat, Vince wheeled into Balboa Park. He wasn't thinking of anything in particular. He drove down the interior street and stopped in the lot where he parked that first day he came to the park. He sat watching the joggers and the dog walkers. He was lost in thought when someone tapped on his window. He looked over to see Doug smiling at him. He felt like he'd run into an old friend. He released the lock and Doug popped into the passenger seat.

"What's up, doc," Doug said.

"Nothing really. Just enjoying the nice day."

"That was a joke, doc. What's up. What's up, doc. You know, Bugs Bunny? The cartoon? The rabbit? I just wanted to make you laugh. You look like you lost your last friend."

"Oh, yea! Sorry. My mind is elsewhere. You never came to see me again."

"Why would I? You can't afford to depend on anyone out here. If I had it you'd have come looking for me. I didn't want to know and then I figured out you'd come up if I had it. I try to be careful."

"AIDS," Vince said, figuring out the puzzle. "That's good, Doug. Being careful is a good thing. Where's Gary?"

"Gary? I don't know. Haven't seen him in about a month. I think maybe he found a guy who took a shine to him."

"I thought you took care of him?" Vince said.

"I did my best. He was young when he came. Same age as me when I first came here. I made sure he knew the ropes, how to stay out of trouble, out of the wrong cars. He's probably okay."

"Yea, probably," Vince said.

He felt like he should have done something to protect Gary and Doug, but he expected they'd be back around. They knew where the boat was. Now Gary was gone and Doug couldn't protect him wherever he was and Vince couldn't either.

"I tried to call you a couple of times. Your boy was here. Not up here in the park, but at Plato's. It was the night Plato got busted. It's hard to remember time. Rumor has it Ronnie was busted too. Plato is back on the street. I haven't seen Ronnie, since I heard that."

"How long ago, Doug?"

"Time, doc. I live in a park. Two months. Maybe more. Maybe less. I don't know for sure. I don't know what time it is."

"Want to go down to the boat?" Vince asked, suddenly wanting to go sailing.

"I forgot you had a boat. Yea, we can get something and I can cook for you. Just like old times, huh, doc?"

The entire time Vince had known Doug didn't amount to much more than a few months. It seemed like a few seconds out of his forty years. 'Just like old times,' he thought, seeing what Doug meant about his concept of time.

"Why do you want to do that?" Vince asked.

"You're an okay dude, doc. It's nothing personal. Expecting too much from someone when you're out here, it's a bad idea, doc. I would have come back around, except you got enough to worry about. I'm just another problem for you. It don't mean I don't appreciate what you done for me. I don't like many dudes. Most guys want what they want but you don't want anything off me. It's like we're friends, almost, you know."

"I didn't do anything for you. We ate a couple of times. I made you get a blood test you didn't want. You needed to have it. I needed to know you didn't have AIDS, Doug. I was glad it came back negative; Gary' too."

"Yea, you would, doc. You made me feel like someone cared about me for a few days. I realized what happens every time I think someone cares about me. It's too hard being fucked over, always hoping someone will really care. Nothing personal. It's not you, doc. It's the street. It's where I live. You live up in that big building with a view of the bay and the ocean."

"No, I sold that. I only have the boat. I took you sailing. You got sunburned."

"Did I? Yea, I guess we did go sailing. I liked being on the water. Never been on a boat before. That was okay, doc. Seems like a long time ago."

"I go to trial this week. I might not be around for a while, so I won't make you any promises, but if I get out of this mess and don't go to jail, I want you to come live on the boat with me. Be my cook. I'll send you to school to learn more about cooking. There's a couple of crew bunks up front. They aren't much, but it would be your space."

"Sure, doc. I'd like that. If you don't go to jail. You know how funny that sounds? Me, talking to a doctor about him going to jail?"

Doug laughed and he looked happy.

"I need to stop on the corner on the way down to the marina."

"On the way to the market, doc. I know you need food. I seen your kitchen before. You never got nothing."

Vince pulled over at the first phone they passed.

"Wes, please. …Wes, this is Vince."

"Vince? How are you?" Wes said tentatively.

"I'm up by Balboa Park. One of the kids up here says Ronnie Haggerty was arrested with some Plato guy. He doesn't remember how long ago but since preliminary, I'm sure. He hasn't seen him but Plato, a drug dealer, is home."

"I know that name," Wes said. "I think Angus had his place staked out for a couple of weeks."

"I figured it was important. The kid is still around, Wes."

"Yea, it seems so. It's the first break on him since the night of the accident. Good job, Vince. I'll get Angus right on it."

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