Episode Seven – Chapter 1 Parking Goes to the Movies
When PI Paul Manning took the call two months ago, transferred to him by his wife and business partner, Shirley Manning, he had no idea that something as simple as answering the office phone would become a life-altering experience.
Paul and Shirley are partners in Manning and Manning, Private Investigations. They share ownership with their son, Paulo, and to a lesser extent, with a number of their longtime operatives. When asked about their respective roles, they laugh and say, “Paul detects, Shirley does everything else.”
But it is a bit more complicated than that.
Paul certainly is a detective, but Shirley is more than an office manager and a receptionist. She also is a licensed PI, an excellent shot, and the business conscience for the men in her life.
Paul says she is his “rock.” Shirley says he is often a
They have built an organization that has made their lives comfortable, and kept them involved, busy and happy for nearly four decades. However, the phone call that Shirley transferred to Paul was destined to change some of the basic beliefs that they held, in both their business and personal lives.
Paul and Paulo were now lying in a culvert near the San Fernando Mission in the Valley. Weapons drawn, they were focused like laser beams on a small house across the street. They knew Shirley was inside; why she was there they had no idea. And therein turns the tale. But let’s start at the beginning:
“This is Paul Manning.”
“Mr. Manning, I am Theresa Salim. I have just moved to Los Angeles from the Middle East, and I need your help.”
“Perhaps you should come by our offices, and we can discuss the matter.”
“I cannot come to your offices. I’m being watched, and if I went there, I would give away the fact that I know my activities have come under scrutiny. Can we not meet somewhere more private?”
I asked her where she was, told her I would call her back in half an hour, and called Shirley and Paulo into the office. We discussed what we knew and didn’t know, and decided that meeting Ms. Salim would do no harm, particularly if we picked the location and Paulo was nearby unbeknownst to our Middle Eastern almost-a-client. (Shirley never hesitated to remind us that no one was a client until they signed our client agreement and left a substantial retainer.)
We decided to ask her to meet on the roof of the parking garage at The Grove, an upscale shopping center just north of the Wilshire district of our fair city. That way we could both drive our cars to the meeting and have a bit of safety.
Paulo would go ahead and check out the area before the meet. It was 10 minutes from our offices on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, and about the same distance from Ms. Salim’s hotel on La Cienega Boulevard.
I called her back and got a standard voice mail – “Leave a message, I’ll call you back,” said a decidedly unfriendly male voice. So I did.
Two minutes later, Ms. Salim called. She apologized for screening her calls, but she was concerned about who might be calling. This client was getting stranger and stranger. I told her about the location of the meeting, and she agreed that it was a good location and we set a time three hours later.
Paulo took off to check out the area, and Shirley came in and sat in the chair opposite my desk.
“I’m uncomfortable about this one,” she said. “I have no rational reason, except that there are hints of terrorism – Middle East, being watched – and it also might have something to do with Ms. Salim’s not following ‘Sharia Law,’ and she could be chased by her family. Be careful, Paul.”
Shirley was as grounded as a person could be. She didn’t bring up problems unless she felt there was a good reason. I was concerned too, but this is our business, and we didn’t become the success we are by not meeting with clients.
Nero Wolfe may have been able to run his detective agency from the chair behind his desk, but this was the real world.
Paulo called half an hour later.
“The parking garage roof is empty, except for one car. I ran the plates, and it’s a rental. There’s a woman in it, behind the wheel. It might be her. I’m too far away to see what she is doing. Do you want me to check it out?”
“No, Paulo. She could be just passing the time waiting for a movie or a friend to arrive. The view is great from up there. We don’t want to let anyone know you are there just yet.”
I decided to take Shirley’s concerns to heart and had called my buddy Captain Bill Vose of the LAPD. I gave him everything we knew about Ms. Salim, including her hotel and origins in the Middle East. Bill has been a friend since we were patrolmen together more years ago than I like to think.
Vose called back in an hour.
“Your Ms. Salim is a bit of a ghost. She never checked into the hotel, at least not under that name. Homeland Security never heard of her, and its Border Protection division says no one of that name has come into the U.S. in the past six months. I would be careful, Paul.”
Vose hung up, and I considered the situation. We had someone who wanted to be a client, who was using an assumed name, and had already lied to us at least once. Bill and Shirley were right. This could be a problem.
I checked my Sig Sauer and clipped its holster to my belt above my right hip. Then I called Paulo and brought him up to date. He said the woman on the roof hadn’t moved.
The drive down Sunset to La Brea and then to Beverly was a short one. I pulled in to The Grove off Fairfax, drove past the famous Farmers Market, and started up the ramp to the seventh floor of the Grove’s very high-end parking facility. (A valet operation on the first floor had a waiting area that rivaled five-star hotels.)
A sign at the ramp entrance told the number of available spaces on each floor and a reminder as you headed up the ramp. Based on the numbers, the top floor had one occupant.
As I passed the sixth level, I saw Paulo’s Cherokee parked in the corner of the garage. It was empty. Good boy. He was in the stairwell, keeping an eye out for our ghost of a client.
I drove onto the top parking deck and immediately spotted the car that Paulo had told me about. Yes, there was a woman in the driver’s seat. She seemed to be asleep. Her head was leaning forward with her chin on her chest. I drove over to the stairwell and picked up Paulo.
The woman’s car was sitting in the center of the parking structure. We circled it and then drove close to the driver’s door.
I shook my head, and Paulo dialed 911.
To be continued ...
Read all of Private Investigator Paul Manning’s adventures – past and present – online at the Parking Today website
(www.parkingtoday.com), under the “Magazine” tab.