Episode Six – Parking Goes to the Movies
Chapter 2 – He wants me to do what?
Sgt. Bill Vose, had the case.
I was sitting on my deck nursing a whisky. Shirley was working late but said she would drop by later. At least my relationship was working. Nothing else was: I had a dead client who wasn’t really a client, no case, and the check for five large was gone. Now what?
The phone rang, and as I walked to the kitchen to get it, there was a knock at the door. I saw Vose through the window in the door, cracked the door and walked to the kitchen. Bill would make himself at home. I answered the phone.
“Paul, it’s Larry. I heard about Linda, er, Laura. Shocking.”
“Shocking, my left foot, you bastard. You lied to me, tried to set me up, and … and … well, I’m one upset detective.” I was never very good at anger.
“Now Paul, she asked me to go along with the little charade. Just so she could convince you to work for her. She didn’t think you would do the job if you knew everything upfront. She said she would tell you the truth when you took the job.”
I was beginning to cool down, but just a little. I don’t like being a patsy, and Larry had set me up.
“Paul, there’s someone else involved, and they want you to continue,” Larry said.
“Let me call you back.” And I hung up, perhaps a little too aggressively.
Bill was on the deck with a glass of Oban. At least he wasn’t drinking my Laphroaig 18. I freshened my drink and sat down.
“There’s more to this than we think, Paul. Laura Jefferson is the ex-wife of ‘Dickey’ Jefferson. Does that name ring a bell?”
“Doesn’t he do something in the movie business. A producer or something?”
“Director. Laura was in his last picture. Everyone said it was a ‘casting couch’ role, but they did get married. It lasted about four years. That’s an eternity in this town.”
“Did he kill her?”
“Nope, he’s on location on another film, in New Orleans.”
“Larry says there’s still a job here, that someone else is involved ...”
“Larry Jorday? That snake. Surely you aren’t letting him front for you.”
“Oh, Larry’s OK. He’s a little bent, but sometimes ... Well, anyway, he says there’s another interested party who wants to hire me.”
“You gonna take it?”
“Dunno – I probably should check it out.”
Bill finished his drink, gave me a disgusted look and left.
Jorday wanted to meet at his “office,” the back booth at the Brown Derby. This time for a late dinner. I decided to take Shirley. It’s a nice place for a drink, and she could protect me from any blondes who happened to show up.
Shirley also likes “sightings” as she calls seeing a movie star. She reads all the fan magazines, and is up on all the Hollywood gossip. Also, when I told her the case involved “Dickey” Jefferson, I couldn’t have kept her away.
Larry was surrounded by empty glasses and empty chairs. He spotted Shirley and jumped to his feet. He grabbed her hand and kissed it. Shirley looked like she needed to immediately dip it in alcohol. We sat down.
“Your new client will be here in a few minutes,” Larry said. He had that Cheshire-cat grin. Oh, boy, what now?
A few minutes later a man walked up to the table. He was about 5-foot-8, 160 pounds. He was dressed in a $1,000 suit, a silk white shirt, and a tie that cost more than my entire wardrobe. His watch was gold, and his cufflinks mother of pearl. He didn’t take a seat. I got up.
“Mr. Manning? William James. I want you to kill a man.”
Whoa, what had Larry gotten me into this time?
I stuttered a bit and said: “Mr. James, I don’t know what Larry has told you, but I don’t do that kind of work.”
James sighed, and sat down. It was like he was a balloon and the air had just been released. I now got a feel for his age; he was older than I thought. He was in his 60s. There was a tear in his eye. I sat, too.
“I apologize, Mr. Manning, my emotions are running pretty wild right now. I’m Laura Jefferson’s father. I live in Nebraska. She was my only child. Her mother is gone. It was just her and me.
“About five years ago, Laura decided she wanted to be a movie star and went out to LA on her own. She met and married that creep ‘Dickey’ Jefferson, and then he threw her out a year ago. There was all sorts of gossip, none of it true, I’m sure. Laura was a good actress, but after the breakup, she couldn’t get a job.
“I don’t know what she was involved with, but I know it had to do with Jefferson.”
“The police are certain Jefferson didn’t kill her,” I told James. “He is out of town.”
“I don’t care what they say; I know he’s involved. He ruined her life, and now she’s dead.”
James was a breath away from crying. I caught the waiter’s eye and ordered some drinks. I gave him until the drinks arrived to pull himself together and then asked him:
“Besides killing ‘Dickey’ Jefferson, what else did you want me to do?”
“Find proof that he was involved in the killing of my daughter, and make sure he gets ‘the chair.’” I didn’t tell James that we use “gas” here in California. “Old Sparky” is more of a Southern preference.
I looked at Shirley and she shrugged. Her shrugs telegraphed a lot of information. But then she was prejudiced. She wanted me involved because of the movie connection. She was already seeing herself at the studios, meeting stars and directors, and getting them to sign that little autograph book she carried in her purse. She could be a good resource on a case like this. She knew everything about Hollywood.
I gave James my business card and told him I would consider his proposition overnight. He would call me in the morning around 9. He left, and Shirley and I moved to another table. I thought if I sat near Larry much longer I would punch him out.
We ordered dinner, and then Shirley spilled her drink on me when Howard Hughes walked in with Ava Gardner on his arm. I thought she was seeing Joe Kennedy on the sly. Maybe Hughes was trying to rub it in a bit; there was no love lost between the two millionaires.
I was about to ask Shirley about it, when she told me to hush and just stared at the two beautiful people. She reached for her purse, and I knew I was going to be embarrassed.
Ava was actually working the room. Howard had gone to a table in the shadows, but she went from table to table, saying hello to friends and signing little books. When she got to our table, she smiled at me and then at Shirley.
“You have a very handsome escort,“ Ava said to Shirley. She took her autograph book, signed it, and put a phone number under the signature. She handed the book to me, smiled, and walked over to Howard’s table. Shirley jerked the book out of my hand and put it in her purse. My guess was that I would never see that page again.
James called my office the next morning, and I took the job, with the proviso that I was not going to kill anyone, at least not on purpose. The deal was the same that his daughter, Laura Jefferson, had offered, and James said a check would be delivered by messenger later that day. Paul Manning Investigations was in business and flush.
I had just hung up the phone when the door opened, and two gunsels who looked like they stepped out of the Palermo Zoo walked in like they owned the place. They didn’t say a word but checked out my office, then waved at the door.
The man who followed them in was slim, about 35, and good looking. He had a Southern European look, a confident manner, and wore a sharkskin suit. It was dove grey. He waved at the two gorillas, and they left and closed the office door. He sat down in my client chair.
“Mr. Manning, I’m Mario Palucci. I understand you knew my fiancée, and were with her just before she died.”
I didn’t like where this was going. The mob was sitting in my office and coming very close to accusing me of murder. I said nothing.
“I asked around,” he said, “and have been told you are a straight shooter, and I know you didn’t kill her.”
I began to breathe again.
“I want to hire you to find her killer and point him out to me. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Hell of a 24 hours. First, no client. Then, one potential client, who winds up dead. Then another client asking me to kill a man. Now a second client asking me to finger someone. And this client works for the mob.
I looked at Palucci, sighed and opened my desk drawer. He flinched, but I pulled out a bottle and two glasses. I knew it was 10 a.m., but I needed a drink, and from the look on his face, he did too.
Mobsters could be in love just like the rest of us. He had fallen for Laura Jefferson, and fallen hard.
To be continued.