Episode Six – Parking Goes to the Movies
Chapter 3 – The Mob Falls in Love
I poured two fingers of single malt for Palucci and two for me. No ice. At 10 a.m., neat is how you drink. At least in my office, since the nearest ice is three floors away. He smiled thanks and took a sip. He was one sad, lovesick mobster.
“Laura was going to take over some of my operations here in LA. She knew she was out of the movie business after that creep Jefferson got finished bad-mouthing her. She was going to be completely legit. I know I have a reputation, but Laura said she wanted to make it on her own.
“Larry Jorday recommended you as someone who could help her and make sure everything was on the up-and-up. My business is expanding rapidly, and I simply don’t have time for parking. She told me she hired you after your meeting with her.
“I want you to find out who killed her and then let me know. I’ll take care of the problem from there.”
My guess was that Palucci’s “take care” was a little more than a few harsh words and perhaps a slap on the wrist. He had a vacant stare in his eyes, and I was very glad I wasn’t the one who was going to receive his wrath.
“I have a client, Mr. Palucci,” I said. “This case is complicated, and you have added to the complications this morning.”
I was fairly certain Palucci had not killed his fiancée. Oh, he was the type to take matters into his own hands, but there was no question in my mind that he loved the girl.
“I don’t care about that. You can work for both of us, as long as you tell me who her killer is before anyone else.”
“Oh, gee, it really doesn’t work that way.” (“Oh, gee,” where did that come from? I was talking to a member of the mob and I say,
“I don’t care about your ethics, Manning. My sources tell me you are good, and I want her murderer found. My way might ruffle a few feathers I don’t want ruffled. Here’s my card and a retainer.”
Palucci finished his drink in one gulp, got up and left.
I stared at the envelope on the desk. It was thick. What do I do now? He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would take “no” for an answer. I couldn’t work for both James and Palucci, could I?
I finished my drink, rinsed the glasses and put them away. I called Shirley and set up lunch. Maybe we could talk it through, and I could figure out a way to handle this mess.
Musso & Frank Grill is a Hollywood legend. It’s been around since 1919, and has some of the best food on the planet, if you want to eat a lot. No fancy dandy Frenchie grub here. Just great steaks, sandwiches, and some Italian if you feel like pasta. They claim that the original recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo was brought back from Rome by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and presented to the chef at Musso & Frank.
Shirley was in a booth when I arrived. I told her what had happened, and she sipped her wine.
“You have a dilemma,” she said. “If you take on Mario, you will be violating a trust to Mr. James; if you don’t, you will have the mob after you. Then there’s your ethics to consider. You know what is right, but doing it might get you killed. And I wouldn’t like that so much.”
I laughed at the “so much” and thought about it for a minute.
“What about this? Suppose I send the money that Palucci gave me to my lawyer and have her set up an escrow account with directions to send it back to him if anything happens to me or when I tell her to.
“Then I’m not working for Mario, but he doesn’t know it. I’ll tell James what’s going on so everything will be on the up-and-up. Then I can sort of dance with Mario when he asks what’s going on, and hopefully the murderer will be in jail before he finds out.”
“Be careful – just be sure this isn’t a ‘danse macabre.’”
Shirley loved her literary references. I didn’t like this one. But at least I could keep business morality in line.
“So what is your first step?” she asked.
“I have to be sure that Laura’s ex, “Dickey” Jefferson, wasn’t involved, and to do that, I need to go to New Orleans. He’s directing a movie there.”
“Yes, it’s called ‘Voodoo Princess,’ and it’s being shot completely on location in and around southern Louisiana. You know, lots of spooky antique shops with chicken blood and frog’s eyes for sale, and huge antebellum mansions surrounded by trees draped with moss.
“I can be packed in an hour,” she said. “When do we leave?”
I had as much chance of stopping Shirley from coming with me as finding my footprints in the concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
“OK, but why not make yourself useful. You have a travel agent in your building. Make us reservations on the next train, and get us a hotel off Bourbon Street. Don’t scrimp; we are flush.”
Shirley was gone before I finished the sentence. Maybe she had been afraid I would change my mind. Hell, might as well have some fun, as well as find out everything about good old Dickey.
The Sunset Limited pulled out on time at 9 p.m. We would be on the train a day and a half. We had our own compartment. Wow!
We could have flown, but travelling by rail added an elegance to the case. We were going to the Big Easy, the Crescent City, to Bourbon Street, to the place of voodoo, ghosts, chicory coffee, pralines and cream, and some of the best food on the planet. We might as well get in the mood.
The train headed east through the LA Basin, past Pomona and Ontario, and then down the grade to Palm Springs. The porter told us that a late supper was being served in the dining car. Boy, these folks knew how to live.
We looked over the menu and were discussing what to have, when Shirley stopped talking and looked directly into my eyes. I was smitten and asked if she would prefer to skip supper altogether to head for our compartment for dessert. She kicked me under the table and told me softly not to look behind me.
That’s roughly the same as putting a “wet paint” sign on a bench, so I started to turn and she kicked me harder. She took a pen and paper out of her purse and wrote on it and then slipped it across the table.
She had written: “Larry Jorday and a southern European-looking gentleman are two tables away. They haven’t seen us.”
I nodded to Shirley, and we got up and returned to our compartment. On the way I glanced over my shoulder. The “southern European-looking gentleman” was none other than my mob-related “not really client,” Mario Palucci.
What the hell was going on?
To be continued …