I’m Not Your Father …
Private investigator Paul Manning found a dead woman in the trunk of a car blocking his in the stack parking lot at the Hollywood Bowl. His business card was in there, too. Once back home, Paul found an envelope with a picture of the person in the trunk, very much alive, and a note saying they wanted $1 million. The woman turned out to be his sister-in-law’s best friend, Sarah, who had left an estranged father and been widowed for about six months. They met her father’s G5 at Santa Monica Airport. The woman with William Smythe-Jones was the man’s grand-niece, Melissa, and a spitting image of her mother, whom Paul knew had been killed 18 months earlier. She asked Paul to speak with her in the hall. “What my uncle was about to blurt out, for all the ears in that room, you may want to keep private. You see, this has become a family matter. Mr. Manning, I am your daughter.”
I stood there silent. I’m not usually at a loss for words, but this little tidbit certainly brought me up short. Unless the birds and bees have changed their habits, I knew that what Melissa said was absolutely impossible.
Sure, I had known her mother, Betty Beeson. Twice. First, when I thought I had saved her life, and second, 25 years later, when I found out she was the head of organized crime in LA.
I also was sitting next to Melissa’s mother when she had gone literally mad and was driving my car at extremely high speeds down a dirt road in the mountains above Los Angeles. Two of her cronies were with us, and we weren’t sure who had fired the shot, but one of them had killed her, and the car ended up in a ditch.
Both her associates were armed, both had fired shots, both had dropped their weapons in the crash. There was no way to tell who fired which bullet. The two were in prison for various crimes against the city, state and everything else the DA could find to throw at them.
“Melissa,” I said, “let’s go down the hall and find a room and sit down.” I needed a minute to figure out how to handle this.
When we had some privacy, I said, “Why do you think I am your father?”
My mother told me that if I ever needed anything, I should find you. You were honest; you would protect me.
“As soon as I was old enough, I went to boarding schools, the best ones money could buy. I saw my mother on holidays, but that was about it. She had no man in her life. I knew about her, who she was. I lived in the family. I knew who ‘Uncle Mario’ was, what was in my blood. There was nothing I could rely on, except what she said about you.
“I never knew you, my father, but I had to believe that my mother wouldn’t trust my safety to anyone but family,” Melissa said.
Well, she had me there. She had believed this, even though her mother never said the words. Sometimes those beliefs are stronger than actual facts. I was about to change her world.
“Melissa, I’m not your father. I was never close to your mother. After the case when we met was closed, we went our separate ways. I never heard from her again until just before she was killed. I had no contact with her. We each went on with our lives.
“I’m honored and a bit humbled that she trusted me enough to tell you to basically put your life in my hands, and yes, I will help you find out what happened to your aunt. But, no, I’m not your father.
It was like a light went out. Melissa started to deny it, to argue, then realized I was telling the truth. She began to cry. I never have done well with women who cry. The door opened and Paulo came in. He sat down and put his arm around her.
“It’s OK, Melissa. Let’s take a walk and talk.”
Paulo led her out onto the airport tarmac. It was like that scene in “Casablanca.” The fog off Santa Monica Bay was rolling in. They walked through the mist. Paulo and Melissa began to talk.
I went back into the conference room. LAPD Capt. Bill Voss, Smythe-Jones (aka Uncle Mario), and the FBI agent were there. They all had that look: “Well?”
I told them. It was going to be common knowledge anyway. Smythe-Jones wasn’t as accepting as his niece Melissa. I offered to take a blood test. That slowed him down. I wouldn’t do that if there were even a slight chance she was my daughter.
We sipped our coffee, each with his own thoughts. I was thinking about that poor girl and what Paulo was telling out by her uncle’s G5.
“Well,” said Smythe-Jones, “do we have a deal? Will you find my daughter’s killer?”
“Yes, but I won’t work for you. I will work for your niece.” (OK she’s a grand niece but it just sounds pedantic. You know what I mean.)
That seemed agreeable and kept me, sort of, from working for the Mob.
We broke up, and as we walked out, Paulo and Melissa met us at the terminal entrance. A limo was there to take Uncle and Niece to Shutters in Santa Monica. I was to meet them for breakfast the next morning. No one was in the mood to talk about murder tonight.
Paulo had driven his own car since he lived on the Venice canals, just a few blocks away. I took Bill back to Culver City to pick up his copmobile.
As I drove home, I was musing – how did the kidnappers know I was at the Hollywood Bowl? How did they set it up so the car with Sarah’s body would be blocking mine? How did they know that I had a relationship with Sarah’s sister? How did my business card get in the trunk with the body?
I pulled into my driveway. My wife, Shirley, was staying with her best friend. She and her husband were the last ones to see Sarah alive, and they needed some support.
The front door to the house was open, the lights were on. I reached into the glove compartment and pulled out my gun ...
To be continued ...
You can read the previous chapters of this Episode, and the other Three Episodes of Death by Parking at PT’s web site www.parkingtoday.com. Click on Magazine.