Time Flies When You Are Having Fun
Time flies when you are having fun, and, boy, have I been having fun. The last 40 years went by in a flash. It's a new century. L.A. has grown, and my business is booming. Wow! With Shirley running the office and Jim Walsh coming over from the Bel Air Patrol, we were able to build a reputation. And a good one.
Yes, I did it, I married Shirley, and Paul Junior came along a year or so later. They tell me he's my spitting image, and I guess he is. He was raised in the detective business, actually helping out on stakeouts, and once, when he was 15, he solved a case all by himself. Talk about a proud poppa.
He's out of the service, having served as a Marine in Desert Storm (well, I guess the jarheads are OK; at least they are now that my son is one), and has come back to work with his dad. Just in time too. All those long nights, lack of exercise and bad diet caught up with me, and the doc said that I had to slow down or die. He's subtle, my doc.
I'm closing in on 70, don't really want to retire, so the timing is perfect. I can keep my fingers in the pie; Junior can do the work, and benefit from the wisdom and experience of age. Maybe Shirley and I can take that cruise we have been putting off since that parking garage caper that really put Paul Manning, Private Investigator, on the map.
I single-handedly -- with Shirley's and Jim's help and, oh yes, there were the LAPD and Bel Air Patrol, but who's counting -- took out a dame who was running the local mob and solved a murder in a parking garage, plus discovered a money-laundering operation. I also discovered that Shirley was my one true love. I think it was her throwing the vase of flowers in my lap while I was chatting up that nurse during my sojourn in the hospital that tipped me off. Or maybe it was the possibility that she might be hurt when she was kidnapped.
The publicity from the parking caper was terrific. I couldn't handle all the calls and asked her to help. She jumped at the chance to keep a closer eye on me and moved into my office a month later. She also told me that if we were going to keep our personal relationship, I had to marry her. Seemed reasonable at the time. And still does.
Business was so good, I couldn't keep up with it, and I asked Jim Walsh to come work for me. He considered it for, oh, 10 seconds and gave Capt. Hankins at Bel Air his notice. We didn't burn any bridges there (I actually got the captain's OK before talking to Jim). That group with all its contacts in the "business" was an invaluable referral.
We moved to new offices on Sunset Boulevard. It is a Spanish-style single-story building with a lot of space. My office has a great view of the strip and the constant parade on the sidewalk outside. I figured that we could rent out some of the space and then grow into it. Being on the Sunset Strip is a good location for getting around town.
We are about 20 minutes from police headquarters downtown, 15 minutes from the Valley (over Laurel Canyon or Beverly Glen), about 20 minutes from the beach cities and a short run down the hill from home. And we didn't have to get on the freeways.
I have seen this city grow from a segregated mess run by the iron fist of the LAPD to being the most diverse and cosmopolitan on earth. The cops are pros now and treat everyone like human beings, sort of. Much of the diversity is Latin, with so-called "Spanish surname" folks, legal and illegal, making up more than half the population. But the Blacks, Koreans, Iranians, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Jews, Canadians, French and the rest make for an absolutely wonderful mix of cultures and languages. Los Angeles is a bazaar. You can find anything here, get anything here, and if you aren't careful, get into trouble here.
That's where we come in. We help people who are in trouble. And, hopefully, help them out of it. All they have to do is call "Paul Manning and Son, Investigations."
Junior had just finished up a case and was meeting in his office with the client and, I hope, collecting our final check, when Shirley announced that someone was in the outer office to see "Mr. Manning."
"Junior or Senior?" I asked. "Based on the age of the potential client, Junior, but Pauly is busy, so I turned it over to you."
She stepped aside, and the most beautiful woman I have ever seen (except Shirley, of course) walked through the door. She was blonde, perfectly proportioned, maybe 35, and carried herself like a lady. Shirley gave me a look that said, "Hands off, Tiger" and closed the door. It always starts with a blond, doesn't it.
I stood and put out my hand - "Paul Manning." A look of confusion crossed her face. "I ... I ... I ... I'm Grace Lundquist," she stuttered. My unerring detective skills, honed with half a century of experience, told me she was expecting to see my son. "I'm sorry, Mr. Manning," she said. "I just expected someone ... younger."
I laughed and said, "You were expecting to meet my son, Paul." He's busy and I'm to keep you company until he finishes in few minutes. The look of relief on her face didn't do a lot for my ego, but this wasn't the first time that had happened.
At that moment, Paul walked in. He really was a duplicate of me, 35 years ago. Tall, rock solid, handsome and smart. He was definitely his own man, so I had to give him a little jab now and then. "Junior, I would like you to meet Grace Lundquist."
He gave a look that brought back memories of a landlord on that parking case years ago. He didn't like being called Junior, particularly in front of a client.
"Miss Lundquist," he said, shaking her hand and sitting in the empty chair next to hers. "How can we help you?"
"Well, I work in one of those buildings on Olympic Boulevard, just west of the 405," she said. "My office overlooks a parking garage. I can see the roof, and I am certain something 'funny' is going on there. I know you must think I'm crazy, but every day about the same time, two cars come up to the roof -- it's usually completely empty -- and something is passed between the cars, and then they both leave."
"Have you tried the police?" Paul asked.
"They were polite, but I think they were too busy for my off-the-wall observations. So yesterday, I went over and hid behind the elevator and watched. The cars arrived, but one of the men saw me and started to come over. I ran down the stairwell and got away, but I think he saw me going into my building. I'm afraid he may come after me. I spoke to the building security director, and he recommended I come and see you."
At that moment, a shot came through my office window and struck Grace in the chest. She hit the floor like a sack of wet cement.
To be continued ...