Episode Six - Chapter 10 Parking Goes to the Movies
Let's get everyone up to speed
When I got a call from my old friend Larry Jorday and agreed to a meeting at the Brown Derby, I had no idea this little caper would involve murder, voodoo, New Orleans, the movie business and, of all things, parking. You know, running garages and parking cars on vacant lots. But more about that later.
Less than 24 hours after meeting my client, Laura Jefferson, she was dead and her father had asked me to find the murderer and kill him. Next, a middle-level capo with the local mob was sitting in my office, crying over some nice single-malt. At least he didn’t want me to kill anyone; he said he would take care of that himself.
William Jaymes (with a “y”), Laura’s father, had hired me to find her killer and to be sure he was convicted after I told him that I didn’t do any “wet” work.
Seems Laura had come to California from the Midwest to be a “movie star,” and had gotten some roles through the good offices of director Dickey Jefferson. She wound up marrying him, but after a typical Hollywood period of married bliss lasting a couple of years, they divorced.
Laura then connected with Mario Palucci, who fell for the beautiful blonde, and fell hard.. He had given her some parking lots to run in LA, and she wanted to be sure there were no mob entanglements, so she had hired me to find out, but was killed before her check to me could be deposited.
My girlfriend, Shirley, and I travelled to New Orleans, where Jefferson was filming his soon-to-be-latest hit, “Voodoo Princess.” I figured it was as good a place to start as any. Palucci followed us and jumped Jefferson. I stepped in and stopped the murder attempt, pointing out to Palucci that no one knew who had killed Laura and that indiscriminate shootings wouldn’t help.
Shirley suggested that maybe I should look into my other client, William Jaymes. I checked with an operative in Chicago and found that (1) he was not Laura’s father and (2) was involved in some shady parking lot deals in the “Windy City.” Curiouser and curiouser.
In New Orleans, we went where “Voodoo Princess” was filming at a local cemetery and discovered Palucci’s body with a dagger in its neck. Dickey Jefferson couldn’t have done it; he was on the set.
We also got to see the film’s star, Leticia Jones, whom Jefferson was motivating in her trailer when we had arrived the day before.
The day after, I met New Orleans police Detective Lt. Henri Lebec, who was running the Palucci investigation, and who also happened to be Leticia Jones’ brother. Lebec saw no reason that the film company shouldn’t be allowed to return to LA, since all the people involved with it were in plain sight on the set when the murder occurred.
Parking – the thread that ran through this case was parking. William Jaymes was into parking; Laura Jefferson had some parking lots she had got from Palucci. Parking – I spoke to some friends in the business, and they said there were two areas of parking I hadn’t considered, valet and limo service.
The valet business can be pretty dicey, they said, with legitimate companies competing with “pick-up” operations that simply put up a sign and start parking cars. There were many ways for that business to be crooked, they said. And both valets and limos go hand-in-hand with the movie business.
I was considering all this when Dickey Jefferson called and told me to get over to the studios. Leticia had missed her call this morning and couldn’t be found. The movie was going to tank if they couldn’t keep their shooting schedule.
I got there and watched Jefferson handle the filming issues for a few minutes, and then called my answering service. There was only one message, from Leticia Jones. She said, “Call me,” and left a number. So I did.
She answered on the first ring. Her Jamaican lilt seemed a bit strident.
“We have to meet.”
“OK. When and where?”
“I’m at the Ambassador, Bungalow AA,” she said. “Hurry, I’m frightened.”
The Ambassador was opened in 1921 and quickly became the “in spot” in Hollywood. It’s actually on Wilshire Boulevard about three miles from the studios, but most anywhere in LA can be called Hollywood. Its stark white façade and reputation for quality rooms and service made it the destination for heads of state and movie stars, and their entourages. Besides the hotel proper, it has individual bungalows in the rear surrounded by a tropical forest.
The Ambassador is most famous for its nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove. Every movie star who has his or her tootsies in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, located across the street from my office, has graced the black-and-white décor of the Grove. Name a headliner – Sinatra, Garland, Crosby, Cole – the nightclub booked only the top names. It was the place for black tie, diamonds and champagne.
I arrived at Bungalow AA half an hour after speaking to Leticia. She was dressed conservatively in slacks and a starched white shirt. Yes, Shirley was right, the teased hair she had when we saw her on the set in New Orleans was a wig. She still was stunning without the extra hair, but I guess Jefferson needed the “Afro” look for his “voodoo princess.”
“Thanks for coming, Mr. Manning. I got your number from my brother, Henri. I called him when the threats started. He said to find a place to hide and call you. He’s on his way to LA but won’t be here for a couple of days. He has a number of loose ends with the Palucci murder investigation.
“When I got to my flat in Hollywood,” Leticia said, “a note had been shoved under the door. It simply said to call a phone number. When I did, a man’s voice said: ‘If you want to live, stop the movie – now!’
“I slammed down the phone, and there was a knock at the door. Like an idiot, I opened it, and a man came in and slapped me. He said that if I didn’t stop the movie, I would end up like Laura Jefferson and Mario Palucci. He threw me on the sofa and left. I called Henri, and he said to hide and call you. So, here we are.”
“Do you have the note they left?”
It was a crummy note, with words cut out of the LA Times; I recognized the typefaces. It looked like a ransom note left by school kids. However, the look in Leticia’s eyes told me they were serious. I asked her what name she had used to check in at the Ambassador. She said her own. Oh, brother.
I told her we had to leave now. Jefferson was still filming “Voodoo Princess,” and the threat was going to become more real. I called Shirley and told her to meet me at her place. I had a surprise for her.
I grabbed Leticia’s bag, and we strolled to my car. No need to attract any more attention than necessary.
Shirley is the best. She had been kidnapped by the mob a few years back during one of my first cases and handled it like a pro. I knew she could keep Leticia safe. I couldn’t take her to my apartment, as that was the first place the gang behind this would look.
When Shirley opened the door, she simply smiled and invited Leticia and me in like we were there every day for afternoon tea. Shirley took her to the spare bedroom and told her to get settled. She then turned on me in the living room.
“Nice advanced warning, Paul. I have a world-class actress in my guest room, nothing in the fridge, no champagne, not a truffle anywhere. What is she going to think?”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. If she stays alive, she will be very happy.”
Shirley’s eyes got as big as saucers. “Wow, I had better clean my pistol,” she said. I knew then that the “Voodoo Princess” was in good hands.
I left for home, but first I called my buddy at the LAPD, Sergeant Bill Vose, to touch base and fill him in. He asked me if I knew anything about the firebombing at the Ambassador. Seems that one of the bungalows had been torched about an hour after Leticia and I had left. It had been registered to “Leticia Jones.”
I told Vose that I had put the actress in a safe place and that her brother, the NOPD homicide detective, was on the way to LA.
I approached my place slowly. There were no cars I didn’t recognize on the street but, well … I opened the door carefully. My gun was locked in my office in Hollywood.
Sitting on the couch were my “friend” Larry Jorday, who had got me into this mess in the first place; and William Jaymes, my client and, as I had found out, not Laura Jefferson’s father. He had a pistol in his lap.
“Come in, Manning. You have a nice place here. Detecting must do you well. Have a drink. You have a well-stocked bar – at least with malt whisky.”
What could I do? I poured four fingers of Laphroaig, added a splash of still water, took a long sip, and sat down.
To be continued …