Who the Heck is Sarah?
Private investigator Paul Manning and his family had a wonderful time at the Hollywood Bowl. But their parking adventure had turned into a nightmare. They were trapped in the Bowl’s stack parking lot, and the car behind them wasn’t going to move. It seemed to tilt a bit toward the rear, like it had a heavy weight in the trunk. Maybe this guy stored his golf clubs, bowling ball and other sports paraphernalia back there. Paul walked around for a closer look. There was a thick, red liquid dripping from the underside of the trunk. Paul pulled out his phone and called a number he knew by heart. It rang on the desk of Bill Vose – that’s Capt. Bill Vose of the LAPD, and Paul’s closest friend. He knew Bill always forwarded this number to his cellphone. Bill’s first words were prophetic: “Hi, Paul, where’s the body?”
The LAPD black-and-whites arrived first, and the officers secured the crime scene, which included my car. My wife, Shirley, and my son Paulo’s fiancée, Grace, went over to the Bowl’s gift shop area and settled in for what they knew would be a long wait. Paulo and I kept close to the scene to get as much information as we could.
Bill arrived a few minutes after the cruisers. “Sheesh, Paul, can’t you go anywhere without finding a body?”
“Just doing my civic duty and ‘calling it in.’
I was filling Bill in on what little I knew when the Crime Scene Investigators arrived and prepared to “pop” the trunk. They used that highly scientific tool known in the CSI trade as a crow bar, and with a quick jerk, the trunk was open.
We all leaned over for a closer look.
It was the body of a woman. Yes, she was fully clothed. She also had a single gunshot to her leg.
“We’ll have to wait for the coroner,” Bill said, “but my money is on that single shot, and then she was put in the trunk and bled out in just a couple of minutes. Then they dumped the car here and simply walked away. Hello, what’s this?”
One of the CSIs handed Bill a plastic envelope with a business card inside. “We found it next to the body.”
Bill didn’t say a word. He handed me the envelope. The business card was one of mine.
Suddenly, what had been a slight inconvenience became very important.
Bill looked at me with that quizzical look that means “WHAT?”
“I have no clue, Bill. I don’t recognize her, the car or anything else about this. However, I will say it’s suspicious that the car ‘happened’ to park here and block us in. It’s almost like they wanted me to find the body.”
Paulo had been quiet since the LAPD had arrived. Now he had something to say.
“I know the LAPD will run the vehicle and probably find it stolen, but what about the tag from the parking fee? If you park in this part of the lot, don’t you have to pay for the reserved spot in advance and get a two-part ticket mailed to you so you can get in? When we came in the lot, the attendant took one part of the ticket and put the other on our dashboard.”
The three of us walked over to the front of the car and, sure enough, there it was, big as life, with 3-inch numbers.
“I’ll bet we can call the Bowl people and they can tell us who bought that parking permit,” Paulo said. “Then it will be as simple as driving over to their house and locking them up.”
He was smiling during that last part. Paulo knew as well as Bill and I that although the parking ticket was a good clue, this wasn’t going to be that easy.
“It’s hard to believe that someone went to all this trouble to steal a car and then parked it just so they would leave an arrow pointing directly at them,” said Bill. “But these will be the first things we check out.”
We also knew that my car wasn’t going anywhere for the next 12 hours, so I told Bill we would take a cab home and I would talk to him tomorrow, well, later today.
We called two cabs and left for our respective houses.
“What’s the matter, Paul?,” Shirley asked “You’re very quiet.” She knew my moods, and usually when a case was just starting, I wanted to talk it out.
“It’s just that something bothers me about all this, beside the fact that my business card was in the trunk next to the body. That woman looked vaguely familiar. I don’t think I have ever seen her before. It’s just something …”
The cab dropped us off, and we walked up to the front door. There was an envelope lying partly covered by the doormat. It was addressed to me.
Inside was a picture of the person in the trunk, very much alive, and a note saying that for her release, they wanted $1 million in small bills and they would call with further instructions.
As we walked through the front door, the phone rang. It was my wife’s brother, Sam. He was crying.
“Paul, you have to help me. They have Sarah. They said to call you and you would know what to do.”
Huh? Who were they? And Sam’s wife was JoAnn, so who the heck is Sarah?
But I was pretty sure I knew at least where Sarah was – at the Los Angeles County morgue.
To be continued ...