All This and the FBI, Too
Private investigator Paul Manning and his family had a wonderful time at the Hollywood Bowl. But their parking adventure had turned into a nightmare. The dead woman in the car blocking them looked vaguely familiar. Once back home, he found an envelope on his front step. 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. Then Paul got a phone call. It was his wife’s brother, Sam. He was crying. The woman in the trunk was Sam’s wife’s best friend. Now she was dead. She had left an estranged father and been widowed for about six months. But none of this made sense. Why would they kill Sarah if they were going to ransom her? How did they know not only where the Mannings would be tonight, but where Paul would be parking? And how was it that he had parked in virtually the only spot at the Bowl that could be blocked by a single car behind him?
I finished the list of questions with LAPD Capt. Bill Vose and went home. My wife, Shirley, stayed with Sam and his wife, JoAnn, to help and console. I needed some sleep. It had been a long time since the Hollywood Bowl concert ended late last night.
I fell on the bed and was instantly asleep. I woke up five hours later to the phone ringing.
“Dad, are you OK? You aren’t at the office.”
My son, Paul, was bright, but his morning repartee lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.
“What time is it?”
I told my rooster son that I would be at the office shortly. On the way in, I called Bill Vose to get an update. He sounded like he got less sleep than I.
“The story seems to check out. Your friends left Sarah alone and went to dinner. They were at the Fireside on Ventura Boulevard. There is no sign of forced entry at the house. We contacted William Smythe-Jones, Sarah’s father. He’s flying in this afternoon, private jet to Santa Monica.
“The car from the Bowl is clean; no prints. It was stolen a week ago in La Habra. The ME says Sarah’s death was as we thought. She bled out after a wound to the femoral artery. It was not from close range; no powder burns. She would have gone quickly. Had she been in a hospital or had medics nearby, there would have been a chance, but a layman could not have controlled the bleeding. One of those things.”
“Well, Bill, that leaves us with a lot of questions. It also revolves around me. They wanted me as the go-between. My only connection to Sarah was her friendship with Shirley’s sister in law, and that’s pretty remote. ...
“Maybe I should look into the parking operation at the Bowl. Someone there made sure that I parked in just the right spot and that only one specific car parked behind me. And they had to have set it up quickly, after Sarah was shot.”
Bill said, “So you are going to go to the Hollywood Bowl and sniff around an active police investigation, get deeply involved, probably have a high-speed chase or two, fire off a few rounds, and bring in the bad guys – all tied up in a nice red ribbon for us dumb cops to take off your hands?”
I smiled. Bill had been my boss at the LAPD, more years ago than I liked to think. We had been down this path before, and he knew when I had something lodged in my craw I was going to work on it until it was resolved.
In this case, I had been invited. My business card was found with Sarah’s body. Someone wanted me very close to this case. They were going to get their wish.
“Why don’t we meet at Ford’s in Culver City tonight and compare notes?”
“OK, Paul, but don’t …”
His voice trailed off. Bill knew his warnings made little difference to me. No one kills someone, blocks my car, involves my family, and gets away with it. I chuckled as I thought about the last sentence – blocking a car in LA was right up there with killing someone.
I picked up Paulo at the office and we went to the headquarters of Southern California Valet and Park. We were met by the owner, Antonio Petrochelli.
I explained why we were there and he nodded. The police had talked to him. He asked his Bowl site manager to come in. Jose Guillermo had just arrived.
Jose was nervous. I couldn’t tell if it was because he’s always nervous, his lack of immigration status, or if he was involved in the murder.
“Jose,” I said, “we are not from the police, and could care less about your immigration papers. We only want to understand how things work at the Bowl and how it happened that I was directed to a particular spot.”
He visibly relaxed. My guess is that he came to the U.S. in the back of a sealed camper. But that’s a story for another time.
“It’s really quite simple,” Jose said. “We stack-park the cars so we can get a maximum number in the lot. When a car comes in, we check the parking permit or collect the money and then direct them to the proper area based on the permit number or what they paid.
“Those who get there first get the spots in the front so they can leave quickly. If you come later, you end up waiting for all the cars in front of you to leave before you can go.”
“But I ended up in a spot that required the car behind me to leave before I could move. How did that happen?” I asked.
“It would take two of them,” Jose said, “working together to direct a particular car to a specific spot. I brought my records of who worked where.”
Jose looked through his records and handed me two cards.
“These are the two most likely. One worked near the entry and would direct you after you paid. The other was down the line, positioning cars as they came in. If they worked together, they could have directed you to anywhere on the lot.”
We took the IDs of the two parking attendants and told Jose that we might be back with more questions. I was still puzzled. How did they know where I would be?
“Dad, they needed to discover that you would be out so they could leave the ransom note at your house. Tons of people knew that we were going to the Bowl to celebrate my engagement to Grace.”
Paulo was right, of course, but I still wasn’t convinced. This seemed much more complicated than that.
We drove back to the office and agreed to split up. He would go to the Bowl and find out who had bought the parking permit used on the car with the body. And I would find the two parking attendants.
There wasn’t going to be any gunfight or high-speed chase. It was going to be slow, boring, detective work.
As I got up to leave, a big man with a dark suit, white shirt, navy tie, a bulge on his hip, and an attitude came into my office.
“Manning? I’m FBI Special Agent in Charge Leon Peyton. We need to talk.”
My phone rang at that moment, and Bill Vose said, “Paul, the Feds are in on this. You’re going to get a visitor.”
To be continued ...