Death By Parking
Episode Six – Parking Goes to the Movies
Chapter 8 – We Dine in a Dump – And I Find a Common Thread
John Van Horn
Private Detective Paul Manning is investigating the death of Laura Jefferson, former wife of film director Dickey Jefferson and fiancée of mob-connected Mario Palucci. She was killed hours after hiring Manning to help her with a parking business venture. Her father, William James, then hired Manning to find her killer. Palucci also hired Manning, but his reason for finding the murderer was revenge.
Manning and his girlfriend, Shirley, are in New Orleans, where Jefferson is on location. Manning heard from an operative in Chicago that William Jaymes, with a “y,” was in fact trying to pass himself off as Laura’s father. And Manning was working for him to discover her murderer. What next?
His client Palucci was found murdered on the movie set at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. As Paul and Shirley returned to their hotel, he looked over her shoulder, and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. There was a voodoo doll halfway down to the door to their suite. It was in a hangman’s noose and dressed exactly like Manning.
Voodoo was everywhere in New Orleans, even hanging on the door to our hotel suite. I reached up and pulled the doll off the cord that held it and carefully opened the door. Shirley was behind me, hanging on for dear life.
I flipped on the lights and found the suite empty, just as we had left it. No one had been inside – no one alive, that is.
Oh, please. This voodoo baloney is just that, baloney. After all, the sounds we heard at the cemetery during the “shoot” came from a tape recorder. The living dead don’t need electronics to make strange sounds.
I poured each of us a drink, and Shirley began to calm down. I’m sure I would in a few minutes.
“Paul, I know voodoo isn’t real, at least I think I do. But just the idea of it can be frightening. And after what Dickey Jefferson’s leading lady, Leticia Jones, said tonight, it’s scary.”
The words of the “Voodoo Princess” were still very clear. “They don’t want us to make this movie,” the actress had said to Jefferson. “I told you not to mess with voodoo.”
I told Shirley that if she were uncomfortable, she could take the first flight back to LA, but I had to stay and see this through.
“Not on your life,” she said. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. At least I have a big strong detective to protect me.”
Right – but who was going to protect me?
Shirley insisted that the “big strong detective” move a dresser in front of the door before we went to bed. She slept like a log. Me, not so much.
I had set a 9 a.m. meeting, at the Café Du Monde in the French Market, with the ne’er-do-well who got me into this in the first place, Larry Jorday. Shirley said she would sleep in and wasn’t frightened any more, at least not during daylight hours.
My old buddy Jorday was sitting sipping a cup of chicory coffee when I arrived. There was powdered sugar on his lip. He had just finished a beignet. He ordered a cup of coffee for me, and I sat down.
Larry was a good-enough guy, but he wasn’t sure which side of the law he was on. Usually it was “complicated,” and I discovered that he easily slipped back and forth between the two sides.
“Before you say anything, Paul, I have a confession to make. I knew William Jaymes, with a “y,” was not Laura’s father, but he paid me a lot to keep his secret. Now that Laura and Palucci are dead, I figure all bets are off. I’ll be straight with you.”
I didn’t say a word. I just stared at him. I was hoping the stare would make my point. It seemed to.
“OK, OK. Laura had been in LA for about five years and was involved on and off with Palucci – that much is true. She didn’t like his involvement with the mob, so she broke it off, and as part of the “settlement,” Palucci gave her some parking garages to run in LA. He figured as long as she was sort of involved with his business, he had a chance of getting back in good with her.
“After she was killed,” Jorday said, “Jaymes showed up and told me he wanted to become close to you so he could monitor your activities. I think he was involved in Laura’s death and needed to know how close you were getting.
“I didn’t think it would hurt, and he did have the big bucks.”
“You slimy little weasel, Jorday. You probably got Mario Palucci killed, or certainly did nothing to prevent his death,” I said. “If I had known what was going on, I could have tried to protect him. I know you were on the train from LA with him. You probably fingered him to Jaymes and set him up for murder.”
“No, Paul, I swear. I did nothing of the sort. Jaymes already knew who Palucci was. It seemed to me as if Jaymes was in business with him. Something about parking cars.”
I told Jorday to stay in New Orleans, and went to the nearest phone. I called Detective Lt. Henri Lebec of the NOPD homicide squad and brother of “Voodoo Princess” star Leticia Jones. He agreed to meet me for lunch.
Uglesich’s is a dump. They call it ‘a New Orleans Tradition,’ but it’s still a dump, in one of the most run-down parts of the city, south of Canal Street, on Baronne. I walked to the front of the restaurant and saw for myself. It is the standard by which all dumps in New Orleans are measured.
Lt. Lebec was standing in line outside. He was dressed as usual in a $1,000 suit, a white shirt, classic silk tie, and wing tips. He could have been a lawyer. I looked at him with question marks in my eyes.
“‘Uglesich’s is a tradition,” he said in his lilting Jamaican accent. “It has the best Cajun sandwiches in the city. Have the oyster po’boy.”
We ordered at the counter (like a pub in the UK), and Lebec paid right then. “It’s a madhouse to try to get back to pay after you eat.”
They shucked the oysters right after we ordered and deep-fried them on the spot. Talk about fresh, and really good.
We sat on a bench outside after lunch. I brought Lebec up to speed on the voodoo doll and what Jorday had told me.
“Of course, the ‘educated’ don’t believe in voodoo,” Lebec said. “But, then, it can be frightening. Most of the deaths caused by voodoo are by literally frightening members of the native Cajun population to death.
“I did some research on your Mr. William Jaymes of Chicago. It seems he is a mover-and-shaker in the ‘Windy City. He is ‘connected.’”
Lebec pushed his nose aside with his finger, the international sign for the mob.
“Like most large cities, we have mob-related activity here in New Orleans. They are mostly Creole and do use voodoo to keep many of their ‘soldiers’ in line. I suggest that what we saw at the movie set and the doll at your hotel was their fine handiwork.”
Ah, yes. A few years back, I had had some brief interaction with fellows from New Jersey who had names ending in vowels. There were money-laundering and murder, and a lot of rich folks. Now I have two murders, strange happenings in New Orleans, and a high-roller from Chicago.
There was Dickey Jefferson and his movie, but I didn’t think that was a motivator in this case. There was one thread that tied virtually everyone, and the mob, together – parking.
To be continued.
Article Abstract from May, 2013