Death by Parking – Episode V: The Shakedown
We Know Why Miguel Was Killed
The boss of crackerjack PI Paul Manning’s girlfriend Shirley, had been jailed for the murder of a parking garage manager. Paul was trying to help and discovered that the boss, Larry Levinson, was having an affair with Mary Hartison, wife of the very jealous gangster Moncrief Hartison.
Mary had confessed the affair to Paul just before he had been hit over the head and ended up in the Hartisons’ living room with Hartison thinking Paul was cheating with his estranged wife.
Before Paul could say anything, he was frog-marched out the door to a truck and later dumped in the desert. He was saved by another PI, James Nelson, who for his own reasons was also trying to bring down Moncrief Hartison. They returned to Paul’s office. They had determined that Mary’s son also was Nelson’s.
“I don’t think Mary is ‘with’ Hartison,” Paul told Nelson. “I think she is there out of fear and would leave in a second if she thought she could. She doesn’t know what to do, particularly as it relates to her, or your, son.
“But parking, what does all this have to do with parking?”
“I don’t really know,” Nelson said. “I just know there was a lot of cash and it was going missing.”
Then a man entered the office, talked with Paul and Nelson, and hired them to take down Moncrief Hartison, publicly. Parking operator owner William Jefferson said Hartison was using the company to steal money from his customers and launder ill-gotten gains.
Paul picks up the dialogue: We had a client who was paying us. We could get the accused murderer, Larry Levinson, off the hook and take down Moncrief Hartison, while freeing Mary from his clutches.
We set a meeting with all the players at my home. We needed a cop and I invited my former LAPD boss, Lt. Bill Vose, who had arrested Levinson. But when I saw Bill’s reaction to meeting Larry at my place, I realized I had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.
I began my explanation to Bill by topping up his Laphroaig. I needed all the help I could get. Bill just stared at me and took a long sip of that wonderful amber liquid. If only my story went down that smooth.
“We need to make some assumptions,” I said. “First, Bill is wrong about Larry; he didn’t kill Miguel Rodriguez, his garage manager.”
Bill cleared his throat. “Hold on, Bill, hear me out.
“Assume Larry is a hothead but innocent. Someone was stealing from the garage. Miguel was involved, but his conscience got the better of him. He came to me for help, but before I could get involved, he was killed.
“There’s an obvious connection to Moncrief Hartison – his ex-wife and Larry’s girlfriend, Mary. We assume she is being blackmailed by Hartison to remain ‘close’ to him. The blackmail is a threat against Mary and James Nelson’s son, whom Hartison hates.
“We need to nail Hartison publicly to take the pressure off Mary” (and, I said to myself, to meet one of the requirements of our only paying client in this case, parking operator owner William Jefferson. He needed to show the world that most operators were legit.)
“But we also need some proof that Hartison is involved in the killing at Larry’s building. To get some background on Hartison, we need to talk to Mary, the one person who knows everything about him.
“Nelson met with his and Mary’s son, Roger, this afternoon to try to get him to convince her to join us in our little quest for the truth.”
Right on cue, there was a knock at the door. Shirley opened it. Nelson walked in with Mary Hartison and followed by Jefferson.
“I called Jefferson and asked him if he could help us with some information about how people steal from parking facilities, and he graciously offered his services.” said Nelson.
Mary ran to Larry, and there was a clinch right out of a movie. I cleared my throat, and they blushed and separated.
We had all the players. Now we just needed for this soap opera to start to make some sense.
We divided into groups – Shirley, Larry and Jefferson sat down at the kitchen table and starting talking parking. James, Mary, Roger and I sat in the living room and began to discuss Moncrief Hartison.
Bill circled between the two groups and the bar and the bottle of Laphroaig.
“First, let me apologize to you, Paul,” Mary said. “I know I led you down the primrose path, but I was frightened and didn’t know how much I could trust you.”
“Moncrief has threatened to kill Roger if I didn’t stay with him. Now that James is back in our lives, I feel better about it and will do what I can to get Moncrief. Right now he thinks I’m out shopping, but I’m not going back,” Mary said. “Roger and I will stay with Larry, if he will have us.”
“It was great to meet our son,” James said. “I didn’t know he existed, but I want to be a part of his life. Mary and I have moved on to be with other people, and we both understand the limits of our relationship.”
I’ll bet Larry Levinson will be glad to hear that.
“OK, Mary,” I said, “you start. Tell us what you can about Moncrief Hartison’s empire.”
She spoke for 30 minutes without stopping. Although Hartison seemed like a wealthy man, his “empire” was a house of cards. He was way over-extended and didn’t have the money to complete the promised donation to the university. He was turning up the heat on his myriad operations to generate cash. Parking was a cash cow, and it was getting the most pressure.
Hartison had made commitments to some “partners” in Las Vegas and those were coming due, Mary said. Hartison didn’t have the money and was feeling the pressure. He had had some stormy meetings with some fellows Mary had met in Palm Springs. The conversations she overheard weren’t pretty.
A germ of an idea was forming. I needed to flesh it out a bit but maybe …
“We know what was happening in the garage.” Shirley, Larry and Jefferson walked into the room. Naturally, my girl Shirley was leading the pack.
“They had more action going off the books than on,” Shirley said. “And good ol’ ‘trusting Larry’ here just sat by and let it happen.” Larry was looking sheepish.
“It’s not unusual,” Jefferson said. “Facility owners don’t like to get involved in the details, and frankly we operators prefer it that way. If the operator is legit, there is no problem. The owner gets a check and we run the garage.
“However, if the operator is shady, or even if they are not watching individual locations too closely, a lot of money can disappear,” Jefferson said. “Sometimes it’s through incompetence, and other times it involves theft. We’ll need to look at the books, but I’m guessing there was a bit of both involved at Larry’s building.”
“But is it enough to kill someone over?”
“Well, these kinds of problems don’t usually reach that point. Sure, there can be people fired, and maybe a few threats will fly around, but murder? I don’t think so.”
I looked at Larry. He was sitting next to Mary. They were holding hands. Just like Mary had held hands with Miguel when I first met her in my office and she was passing him off as her husband.
“Mary, could Hartison have found out that Miguel was a friend of yours, and even that you were ‘married?’”
“I didn’t tell anyone except you. We thought it would make Miguel’s story more believable,” Mary said. “No one knew …
“Wait a minute. My secretary, Joanie, was in the next room when Miguel and I were talking about going to you. She knows Moncrief. She has been to parties at his house. What if ….” And Mary began to cry.
To be continued …
Article Abstract from February, 2011