Death by Parking
A Voice I Hadn't Heard In ...
Semi-retired PI Paul Manning and his son, Paul Junior, were stunned when their prospective client, Grace Lundquist, was shot in their office just before she could tell them about some mysterious happenings at a local parking garage. She had been taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and was out of danger. They were discussing what to do next when the phone rang. It was Bill Murray, the Sheriff's Department detective who had gone to the hospital to interview her. Someone had gotten through the ER security and shot up the recovery room where Grace was. There were people down. The shooter got away in a black towncar. They jumped in Paul Junior's Jeep and headed for Cedars.
It was only about a three-minute ride down La Cienega to Cedars-Sinai. Paulo made it in two. When we turned the corner onto Beverly and the hospital ER, I was certain we were going to be its next customers. Jeeps have a high center of gravity. Paulo was smiling as we stopped short of the yellow tape.
There were police from three jurisdictions -- the LAPD and the Sheriff's, and Beverly Hills was directing traffic. We were literally a couple of blocks from each of their turfs. There were choppers overhead with the names of local radio and TV stations. This was going to rival the O.J. Simpson low-speed chase.
Fortunately, Bill Murray was standing outside and waved us through the line.
"Sorry to have overreacted on the phone," Bill said. "These security guys here were great. Oh, the bad guy got some shots off, but the dog handler turned his shepherd, Goldie, loose. The shooter took one look at those teeth and headed for the door.
"The 'people down' were just about everyone in the area who hit the deck when they heard the shots. No one was injured," Bill said, "but my guess is that the hood with the gun may have a problem where the dog took a piece out of his leg."
Our postures reflected our relief as Paulo and I went back to the car and regrouped. We decided the plan of action we had devised before the phone call was a good one. We called Shirley, and she let our operative Jim Walsh know that he should get moving on tracking down the towncar. Paulo would run over and sniff around Grace's office and the parking garage. He would leave me here where I would see what I could find out about the shooter and talk to Bill about the forensic evidence that may have been uncovered.
I know, I know -- this is a police matter and we are private. But nobody, I mean nobody shoots a client in my office and gets away with it. Bill Murray was going to have his hands full negotiating with the LAPD. This was becoming a big case. Grace was shot in West Hollywood, the purview of the L.A. County sheriff. Cedars-Sinai, the scene of the latest shootout, was in the city of Los Angeles. Grace's office was in L.A. too. The main question would be who wanted the publicity. As long as it was good, then obviously everyone would want it. But when it went sour, you wouldn't be able to find a public relations officer anywhere in sight.
As I thought about it, the LAPD might not look too good allowing a major hospital emergency room to be shot up right under its nose, so it might just let Bill Murray take the case. Boy, was I wrong.
The news conference was already being set up. It looked as if some movie star was being perp-walked after confessing to entertaining a working girl in his Maserati. There were dozens of satellite trucks, choppers and slick-looking reporters, men and women, each doing a "stand up" trying to find some little spin that would get this piece on the nightly news from New York, and maybe a promotion.
The LAPD was everywhere and organizing the press like you would organize a stampede. It was fun to watch. Commander Bill Vose held up his hands in a plea, or was it a prayer, for quiet. I had known Bill forever. He had been my partner at the LAPD and later my boss when I got fired from the force. He had tried to protect me, but it wasn't in the cards. We kept in touch, and have remained good friends. Bill had worked his way up through the department and now was a honcho downtown. He was the "go to" person when something big was happening and the press needed a statement. With his being involved, this might just be bigger than I thought.
Bill tried to placate the reporters, but to no avail. They wanted something, and he had nothing. Finally, he told them there would be a full report and press conference the next day downtown. I caught his eye as he walked away from the microphones.
He came over and shook my hand. "I should have known you would be in the middle of this mess," Bill said with a smile. "Here we have a complicated turf war starting, an unknown shooter or shooters, a wounded witness to who knows what, and you and your kid right in the middle of it."
"Now just a minute, Bill. We were simply doing our jobs. It's not our fault someone wanted our client dead. Frankly, we don't know anything more than you do; besides, the Sheriff's have the lead on this, not you."
"Well, our brass just spoke to the sheriff, and he graciously handed it over to us," Bill said, again with the smile. " And I now have a first: I actually have information before you do."
"What? Give!" I actually had my hand on his lapel. Bill Vose and I are very close, which is fortunate because most cops don't like being touched, particularly by a PI.
"OK, OK, calm down," he said. "It's getting late and I'm going off-duty. Let's go across the street to the Barefoot Cafe and have a drink."
The cafe wasn't exactly a cop bar. It was a little froufrou and fit well into the trendy area where West Hollywood, L.A. and Beverly Hills met. But they had good single-malts and a nice patio where we could sit out and enjoy the afternoon.
Bill ordered an 18-year-old Glenlivet. As a whisky, it's not spectacular, but it's taken me nearly 30 years to wean him off Maker's Mark. I felt perverse and had a Laphroaig, with a splash of water. We took a couple of minutes to enjoy our drinks and then Bill began.
"We aren't sure, but we think this may have something to do with union organizing."
"What?" I said. "Unions? In a parking lot? I can't believe it. Why would someone want to organize a parking attendant?"
"I don't know much about it," Bill said. "It's being handled by our organized crime division. However, I do know that the deck next to your client's building is one of the first to be organized in the city. I don't think the legitimate unions are involved, but this one has seemingly close ties to Vegas and New Jersey."
This is where I came in. That first case years ago that put my firm on the map was about the Mob and parking and money laundering. A greedy "businessman" who owned a parking operation, as well as other interests, had been using it to launder money that he made illegally in numbers and the rackets.
The East Coast wise guys had set up a beautiful Italian woman, who was a "B movie" actress and onetime flame of Howard Hughes, to take over the parking operation. I stumbled right into the middle of it and with unerring detective skills, plus a lot of luck, stopped the process. I hadn't thought about parking, except as a place to put my car, in nearly four decades.
"Wow," I said, "those guys can play rough. I thought the parking business had been clean for years."
"The parking business itself is," Bill said. And he left it at that.
I paid the bill and called Jim Walsh to come pick me up. As I waited, I began to think that Paulo might be walking into a hornet's nest. I called his cellphone and it kicked into voice-mail. I called Shirley, and she hadn't heard from him. This was unusual. He always checked in whenever he left an interview.
As I was musing, my phone rang. It was a woman's voice. I thought I recognized the Southern European accent -- a voice soft as moonlight dancing on the Spanish Steps in Rome, but clear as the howl of a wolf on the slopes of Mt. Etna.
"So, Mr. Paul Manning, you are sticking your nose into my business again. This time, you and your son -- Paul Junior, isn't it -- won't be so lucky." The phone went dead.
To be continued ...
Article Abstract from December, 2005