Angel of Mercy by Alexander J. Richardson

Dr. Evans has been a doctor in a rough part of Hampton County, Missouri, for decades - but after the death of his wife, his gambling habit finally catches up with him; by Alexander J. Richardson.

Dr. Evans leaned back in his chair as he pressed an ice pack against his black eye and wondered how in the devil he would ever make it out of this mess.

Seventy-eight thousand dollars in the hole. Seventy-eight thousand! And there was nothing he could even hope to leverage it with. Any assets worth having, had been lost ages ago. He thought he had a sure-fire ticket on those college basketball games, but no.

What a mess. What an awful mess.

Fat Stevie's bruiser would be back by the end of the week. If Dr. Evans didn't have something by then, it would be worse. So much worse.

"I can't pay if I can't work!" he'd said as the hired thug advanced on him. "This is madness, you brute! A physician requires cognizance!"

"Real swell you got two eyes, then," the brute had said before slugging him in his left one and putting Dr. Evans on the floor of his office.

Oh, what rotten logic. Suppose, with that mindset, the bruiser next declared Dr. Evans only needed one working hand? Maybe one working leg? One working testicle? There were so many things that could be done to him in the vein of real swell you got two.

He swiveled around in his chair and looked at his medical degrees. So much effort. So much work. All of it swirling down the drain in thrall to this terrible illness.

If only Dolores could see him now.

Dr. Evans opened the drawer of his desk and fished around for his keys. There weren't any more patients scheduled this afternoon - not that he was in any position to treat them, worked up as he was. There weren't many patients at all these days, really. He should've retired ten years ago. Should've been in a position to. Hell, many of his colleagues had retired fifteen years earlier.

A doctor's life, even when not extravagant, is supposed to afford certain luxuries.

But the basketball games. The ponies. The scratchers. The slots.

The possibilities they held - even now, even as he sat here, beaten and bruised - were like the North Star calling a sailor home.

Or, more truly, like the whispers of a bottle to the gutter-soaked drunk.

Tears filled Dr. Evans' eyes - painfully in the swollen one - as he grabbed his keys and left the office behind.

After the cancer ate through Dolores and the good Lord sent an angel to carry her home, Dr. Evans had sold their spacious house on the fine side of Hampton County for a modest condo a little too close to the tracks. People assumed he had done it to downsize and not see his late wife in every corner - but in truth, selling the place had allowed him to cover his exorbitant debts at the time and put him in a position to retire comfortably, should he choose to.

Of course, there was another basketball game. Another pony race. With the way he laid down bets, he only needed one to land right.

But they never did.

He parked his Mercedes - his only real sense of wealth left in the world, and it wasn't in good enough shape to resolve anything monetarily - out front and was halfway up the path when he heard it.

"Dr. Evans?"

He turned around, his heart hammering. Standing behind him, wearing a trench coat with the collar turned up and sporting a thick beard as he stood next to a town car, was a man Dr. Evans had never seen before. A man who didn't look all that different from the bruiser he had met just a few hours ago. He put up his hands and started to back away from the stranger.

"Come on, now. Come on," he said. "Nothing's changed in a few hours. He said I had until Friday. Stop this. You can't bleed a stone!"

The bearded man shook his head. "Got it wrong, doc. I ain't here for nothing rough. The boss just wants to have a chat with you."

Dr. Evans shook his head repeatedly. "Fat Stevie said I have until Friday!"

The bearded man grinned. It reminded Dr. Evans of an alligator.

"Meaning no disrespect to you, doc," the bearded man said, "but I sure as shit don't work for Fat Stevie."

He gestured back to the town car. "He just wants to have a little talk with you. You help him some, he can help you."

Dr. Evans looked from left to right, his heart pounding.

"Who wants to talk with me?"

As if on cue, the backseat window of the town car rolled down, revealing a gray-haired man with liver spots on his cheeks. Dr. Evans nearly collapsed then and there.

The man he was looking at was none other than Sam Crosby.

Oh, Lord have mercy.

"I'm so glad we're having this chance to chat," Sam Crosby said as the car passed Main Street and turned onto Hooks Road. "My deepest condolences for your loss."

Dr. Evans swallowed hard. Sam sat next to him. The bearded man was in the front passenger seat. Dr. Evans hadn't seen the driver. A partition separated them.

"Did you know Dolores?" Dr. Evans said.

Sam shook his head. "Can't say that I did. Cancer's a damnable thing, though. My own Muriel succumbed to it. Did you know that?"

"No," Dr. Evans said. Muriel Crosby had never been his patient.

"And you've fallen on hard times since your wife's passing," Sam said. "Fat Stevie's no one to trifle with."

The hairs on Dr. Evans' neck went up, but it came as no surprise that Sam was aware of his debts, being that he was the biggest crime lord in Hampton County.

Well, one of the biggest.

"Yes," Dr. Evans said, "I've fallen on very hard times."

Sam nodded. He reached over and patted Dr. Evans on the arm.

"That's something I could help you with - assuming, of course, that you first help me."

Dr. Evans looked Sam in the eye, thinking events might be turning in a direction he understood.

"Are you unwell, sir?"

Sam laughed. It was unpleasant, like a wheezing dog.

"As unwell as ever," he said, "but never mind that. Muriel's death, and the murder of our beloved son - my only child, you know, the only one we ever could conceive - has left me desiring to set things right before I go."

Dr. Evans nodded as if he understood. "And how might I help you with that?"

Sam sat up very straight.

"Abigail O'Hara is your patient, doctor, is she not?"

"She is," Dr. Evans said, and his mouth was immediately dry. Abigail O'Hara, otherwise known as Big Ma, had been picking at Sam Crosby's turf for the better part of thirty years. Rumors persisted that they'd broken up territory within the county, apparent safe zones for one family or the other. Violating those boundaries led to disappearances. "Why - why do you ask?"

Sam smiled. "You know what she's been towards me, doctor. The things she's done. No respect. My grandfather built this county, and my daddy shaped it into one of the most thriving areas in all Missouri. I have, if I may say it, seeded the land for continued growth in my time as family patriarch."

Dr. Evans thought thriving area was a bold way to describe Hampton County, both now and historically, but he couldn't see any wisdom in sharing that with his host.

"That coldhearted she-dog - you know it was her own son, that reviled Terrible Timmy, who killed my sweet Derek? Muriel was fighting the cancer pretty good before that happened. Afterwards? Oh, she came apart like the flower in a tornado."

"I'm very sorry to hear that," Dr. Evans said.

He didn't like where this was going.

Sam stared ahead for a long moment before turning back to Dr. Evans.

"This is where you come in, doctor. This is where you help me make it right."

The doctor's throat was positively scratchy now.

"How - how's that, sir?"

Sam leaned towards him. "You see Big Ma with some regularity, don't you?"

Dr. Evans nodded. "Ms. O'Hara. Yes. Once a quarter. Always a house call."

"You know, doctor, you're one of the only people she lets in. Outside of her vile sons and hired help - whom she vets most closely - no one ever gets near her. You're the exception. And if my review of your calendar was correct, the next house call's coming up very soon. End of the week, in fact."

Dr. Evans stared at him. How had Sam Crosby possibly been able to access his calendar?

"That's right," Dr. Evans said. "I'm seeing her this Friday at two thirty."

Sam grinned. His teeth were yellowing.

"Here's what's going to happen, doctor. I'll clear your debt with Fat Stevie. Don't mind the how or what of it, just know it'll be done. You won't owe him so much as a penny.

"And in return, you're going to give Big Ma a little medicine this Friday."

"Oh, no." Dr. Evans shook his head. "I couldn't possibly. It would violate my oath."

Sam kept grinning. "Then you'll just have to violate away, doctor. Fat Stevie plans to make an example of you. If he's not paid by the end of the day Friday, you're getting left in a shallow grave. I'm your way out. I'm your angel of mercy."

Dr. Evans shook his head several times more.

"This can't be happening. This can't be. I'm a man of medicine, of healing. How did it come to this?"

Sam didn't say anything at first. He patted his guest's leg.

"This is the bed you made, doctor. I'm offering you the chance to leave it behind."

The car stopped. Dr. Evans looked out the window. They were back at his condo. Sam reached over with a card.

"Call the number here at four o'clock on Friday," he said, "and let me know it's done. I'll be waiting. I get that phone call, your debt disappears."

He spread his arms and kept the grin on his face.

"If I don't, doctor," he said, "you disappear."

Dr. Evans sat in his study. His appointment with Ms. O'Hara was in an hour. He had his black bag open at his feet. On his desk was a syringe. Next to it was a vial of morphine. The dosage would be more than enough to kill a horse, let alone an aging queenpin.

He turned to a picture of Dolores, taken on his seventy-fifth birthday.

"Oh, Doll. Oh, what do I do? What other way is there?"

The memory of her eyes, so full of life, gazed back at him. Dr. Evans sat there several more minutes.

He drove up to the property and one of Ms. O'Hara's sons - Doug-Doug - opened the gate. Several other men stood around, though none of the others were his patient's children.

"Pull up next to the house, doc," Doug-Doug said as Dr. Evans stopped next to him with his window rolled down. "Ma's eager to see you. Got some neck pain."

Dr. Evans nodded and parked where he was told. As he got out of the car, Doug-Doug looked at his face.

"That's a mean shiner, doc. Somebody playin' rough with you?"

Dr. Evans shook his head. "Not at all. I slipped in the bathroom a few days ago. The perils of age, I'm afraid."

Doug-Doug nodded and led Dr. Evans into the house. Two of Ms. O'Hara's other sons - Jimmy and Timmy - were playing cards. Jimmy slapped his down, face up.

"That's a full house, Timmy. Read 'em and weep!"

Timmy stared at the cards for a moment. As Doug-Doug and Dr. Evans started up the stairs, Timmy grabbed one side of the table with both hands and knocked the whole thing over.

"You cheating me, brother? Are you cheating me?"

Doug-Doug shook his head once, and then they were outside Ms. O'Hara's door. Dr. Evans waited as Doug-Doug rapped his fingers on it lightly and pushed it open, poking his head in. Dr. Evans could hear him saying something. Doug-Doug pulled out of the room.

"She's all yours, doc," he said. "I'll be downstairs when you're done."

Dr. Evans nodded at him and walked in.

As always, the room was draped in shades of maroon. Hefty curtains covered the windows, blocking out all light that didn't emanate from the candles set about. Piles of clothes covered the floor, and there was a strong waft of something - urine? mold? - coming from them. The king-size bedspread was a mess of liquor spills and cigarette burns, and sitting at the end of it, wearing an enormous gown to cover her frame, was Ms. O'Hara.

"Hi, doc," she said, her voice surprisingly soft. "How you holdin' up?"

"Just fine, thank you, Abigail." Dr. Evans cleared his throat once. "Doug-Doug said you're suffering from neck pain."

Ms. O'Hara nodded, her chins wobbling. "Must a' slept funny or somethin'. Tweaked it bad couple nights back."

"I see. Lie out on the bed, please. I may need to give you a shot."

Ms. O'Hara turned around, which took more than a moment, and laid out on her stomach on the bed. Dr. Evans swallowed hard and set down his black bag.

Stay with me on this one, Doll. See me through.

He opened the bag, taking out his syringe and fixing it with the morphine.

"Oh, doc?"

Dr. Evans looked over at his patient. "Yes, Abigail?"

"'Fore I forget, can you grab the tote from my vanity?"

Dr. Evans frowned to himself and looked over at the vanity. There was a white tote bag with Shopper's Market written on the front. He picked it up.

"Do you really need this now, Abigail?"

She turned her head to the side and looked at him.

"Jus' open 'er up and take a peek, doc."

Dr. Evans opened the bag and gasped. It was stuffed with cash.

"You been helpin' me an' my boys a long time, doc," Ms. O'Hara said. "Gotta be near retirement. Take it as a little somethin' to enjoy your fishin' years. With Dolores gone, I wanted to be sure you was set up right."

Dr. Evans didn't speak at first. When he did, his voice was choked.

"This is very kind of you, Abigail. Very kind."

She waved a flabby hand at him. "Wasn't nothin'."

Dr. Evans held the bag for another moment.

"Wasn't you gonna give me a shot, doc?"

Lord help me, Doll. Lord help me.

"Actually," Dr. Evans said, setting the tote bag down and putting the syringe back in his bag, "I'd like to try something else. Hold still a moment..."

Dr. Evans sat in his study, the bag of money on his desk. He'd counted it three times. Just over one-hundred thousand dollars. More than enough to pay off Fat Stevie. Hell, plenty left over to supplement his retirement.

And maybe just a little bet on a basketball game. Only a sure thing.

Jesus Christ.

He put his head in his hands.

And what would Sam Crosby say? Would he just let Dr. Evans walk away from this? No, of course not. Who knows what he could've told her during their appointment? He hadn't said a word, of course, not a damn thing, but would Sam believe that? If he did, would he care?

Dr. Evans' clock was next to the picture of Dolores. Four o'clock, on the dot. He took out Sam's business card and looked at the number.

And sat there.



He looked at the picture of Dolores.

"They're at all sides, Doll. All exits. And all I can think about, aside from you, is the next game. The next bet."

His eyes filled.

"The next sure thing."

Her memory stared back at him. Tears streamed down Dr. Evans' cheek.

"I don't want to gamble anymore. I don't want to feel this way."

He gripped his sides and, after a moment, took a deep breath.

"But I can't stop. Goddammit, I can't. I've tried for fifty years."

The picture stayed where it was. Dr. Evans let go of himself and took the syringe out of his bag.

"See you in a minute, Doll."

Dr. Evans stuck the needle in his arm and pressed down on the piston.


  1. An excellent story! And we get to meet Big Ma and the boys again -- Always a pleasure.;) Seriously though, very well-written. Actually, I expected the doctor to use the syringe on himself but earlier. The way it turned out in the story is much more interesting and meaningful.

  2. A gambling addiction and a collection of dangerous clients is a bad combination. Evans chose a path that left him with a clean conscience. And Big Ma lives on to anchor another tale!

  3. Great story, love the twists and turns as well as the resolution.

  4. Great read. It has a strong momentum that keeps you reading. And excellent characters. Also presents a deadly dilemma with no easy way out. Nicely done.