Episode Six – Parking Goes to the Movies
Chapter 1 – A few hours make a difference.
When I woke up this morning, the marine layer covered Los Angeles like a cold wet blanket. From my house just off Mulholland Drive, I could see above the clouds, and the sun rising. As I sipped a cup of coffee on my deck, I wondered what the city just waking up had in store for me today.
I’m Paul Manning, private detective. I like to think I’m a combination of Sam Spade and Nero Wolfe, with Spade’s worldly understanding of people and Wolfe’s brain. Who am I kidding? I drink like Spade, and never made it much past high school. But there you go.
I can follow an errant husband or find out whether a prospective employee lied on his application. That’s easy. I learned those skills when I was a cop with the LAPD, and have made contacts that cross all strata of society.
But “Bogie” will never play me, and no academic need worry about my taking their job. I’m a working stiff. But I know right from wrong, and in this business, that’s almost enough.
Last night I got a call from an old friend. He had his feet in a couple of different social circles and from time to time threw a job my way. He said he might have something and that I should meet him this morning for breakfast. He worked late and started late, so we set 11 a.m. as the time and the Brown Derby as the place.
“Paul, what time is it?” she called from the bedroom. Maybe I was a little like Spade – I did like blondes.
“It’s a little past 8,” I said.
“Oh my God,” Shirley said. “I have to get moving. I’ll be late.”
All I could see was a blur as she ran through the house picking up her clothes and heading for the bathroom. She is going to have my children. Oh, I’ll make her an honest woman first. But she is definitely the one.
When Larry called my office, he had said something about a new company in town that was taking over parking lots and running them for the owners of the property. Parking? Sheesh, when are those people going to get a real job? Do I want to get mixed up in some penny-ante business that collects dimes and quarters, and lets you park your car on their lot?
“Will I see you tonight, Paul?” Shirley asked as she pecked my cheek on the way out.
“Sure,” I yelled at the closing door. One thing I liked about her is that she didn’t assume anything. We knew where we stood, and we treated each other well. Like adults. We were good together, and we knew it. Now, if I could just not screw it up.
Larry Jorday knew how to work every side of the street. He may know right from wrong, but that didn’t seem to make any difference.
He was sitting in a booth near the rear of the Derby. A woman was with him. A blonde. A beautiful blonde woman.
“Paul, I want you to meet Linda Jackson. Linda, this is Paul Manning.” She smiled and I melted. “Paul, Linda is going to offer you a job.”
Oh, boy. I was in trouble. Shirley was going to skin me alive and I hadn’t even said a word.
Jackson was a looker, really turned out well, and she shook my hand like she meant business. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Manning. Larry has told me a lot about you.”
Sheesh, no telling what tales Larry has spun. I would have to be careful. I wonder how she met a lowlife like Larry.
“Thanks, is it Mrs. Jackson? And please, call me Paul.”
“Linda, and it’s Miss.”
She was smiling, and I was in real trouble. She was wearing a smart green suit that picked up the emerald flecks in her eyes. No jewelry – she didn’t need it. Her hair was the color of spun gold. It hung loosely about her shoulders.
“So, how can I help you?” My voice was a little husky. I took a sip of water. I had to get my act together. I was spoken for, in a relationship, and wasn’t looking for any extracurricular activities.
“Down to business, I like that,” she said. “Larry is a friend of my ex. Let’s just say that my former husband was in some rather questionable businesses in New Jersey. He also owned a limousine service and a number of parking lots here in Los Angeles.
“When we split, I knew I wanted to be as far away from him as I could, and settled for a small stipend and the business here on the west coast. Based on the fact that my ex owned it, I know it’s probably a tad shady.
“I left him because I couldn’t deal with his business tactics. I want to clean up the operation here and make it legit. I need some help. Larry said you were the guy.”
Perfect. Mob, beautiful blonde, divorced, probably a jealous ex, and parking. I knew a little about parking from a case I worked a year or so back. In that one, blood was flowing everywhere I looked. So add danger to the list above.
“I have had some experience with parking,” I said. “I know a few people who can help with the accounting and technical aspects. I’m not too sure about going up against those folks from Jersey whose names end in vowels.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, Paul. I have some insurance, and I’m certain my ex will leave me alone. If he gets too frisky, I can put him in jail for life. I just want to build a business and get on with my life. Will you help?”
Linda passed over a folded piece of paper. It had a daily rate on it, and the words “Plus Expenses.” The rate was twice what I normally charge. Attached to the paper was a $5,000 retainer, already made out to “Paul Manning, Investigations.”
There also was a card with her name, phone number, the name of the parking company and her ex’s name. Plus, there was the smile, and she was blonde. There was only one thing to say.
“Give me 24 hours to consider it.” I handed back the piece of paper and the check, kept the card. “I have your number. I’ll call you tomorrow morning.”
Five years ago, I would have said yes on the spot. But I’m learning. A few hours will make no difference, but at least I will know how deep the hole is before I jump.
I left Linda with Larry and drove downtown to the LAPD’s new headquarters. It had been opened only a couple of years and was ruled by Chief William Parker. He had been using a pretty wide broom to clean up a very corrupt LAPD.
I was one of the ones swept out but didn’t hold a grudge. Being a private detective was a much better deal than being a beat cop. I wasn’t corrupt, but maybe a little too aggressive with a suspect. Oh, well.
One of my best friends was my former LAPD partner, Bill Vose. He’s a Detective Sergeant in the Homicide division now, and would know about Linda Jackson and her ex, Mario Palucci.
I got a visitor’s pass at the front desk and went up to Homicide.
“Bill, what do you know about a Linda Jackson and a Mario Palucci”
“Gee, Paul, and hello to you too, and how are you? I’m fine, thanks for asking. And how is Shirley? The wife and kids are fine. You sure know how to make chitchat. What the hell do you want?”
“Sorry, Bill, I’m just concerned about a new case I’m considering. The client is a woman, Linda Jackson, who used to be married to the mob in New Jersey. I thought it might be a good idea to get some background before I took the job.”
“Is she a blonde?”
“Yes, but I don’t know what that ...”
“Shut up, Paul. You already have decided to take the case. You are just making an effort to appear professional to your new ‘client.’ I don’t know Jackson, but Palucci is a midlevel mobster, works for the Camino family. He’s a cousin or something.
“Palucci has his fingers in a few things here in LA – a parking lot and a limo service, I think. Small potatoes. We just keep him in our files in case something big comes up.”
I explained Linda’s situation and what she wanted me to do.
“I’ll run a records check on her and make a call to New Jersey,” Vose said. “Give me a couple of hours. Meet me at Musso & Frank at 5.”
I went to my office. At 3:30, the phone rang. It was Bill.
“Come to 1313 Glendenning Place, in the Hills. Now.” And he hung up.
It was a curvy street, narrow, and today blocked with police cars. I gave my name and Vose’s to the cop outside the house and was ushered inside. Vose had a hard look on his face and I had a bad feeling.
The house had been ransacked. There was nothing that hadn’t been tossed, torn or thrown. There was a body on the floor. A woman, wearing a green suit. She had hair the color of spun gold. I couldn’t see her face but didn’t need to.
“Paul,” said Bill, “take a look at Miss Laura Jefferson. Positive off her driver’s license. Lived here for five years. You really should check your client’s ID before you take a case. We found your card in her purse.”
I guess a few hours do make a difference.
To be continued …