He Has Ties to the Old Country …
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. 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 back east and been widowed for about six months. They met Sarah’s uncle and her niece, Melissa, and Paul agreed to help find Sarah’s killer. As he drove home, Paul was thinking: How did the kidnappers know he was at the Hollywood Bowl? After a forced meeting at his home with the kidnappers, Paul was left by the side of the road, a police convoy pulled over, and LAPD Capt. Bill Vose got out of the lead car. “The plot has thickened,” Paul told him. “Did you pass a black SUV as you came up the road? It contained the kidnappers, and another hostage. We are starting this all over again.”
One thing was certain: If, as I was bidden by the kidnappers, I abandoned the search for the killers of my wife’s sister, I would be sleeping on the couch forever. Besides, if they actually took matters into their own hands and wreaked a little vigilante justice on the killers, who supposedly killed Sarah by mistake, their hands weren’t clean. None of this would have happened if those yahoos hadn’t kidnapped her in the first place.
And now Melissa’s twin, Mandy, was in their clutches. What would happen next? Maybe I should call the writers on “General Hospital.” This was truly a soap opera. Anything they could write wouldn’t be any crazier than this.
Paulo and I met the next morning with Melissa and her Uncle William Smythe-Jones, at their hotel in Santa Monica. The FBI and LAPD where there, too. They all knew about the second kidnapping. It was a rather subdued group. Although I technically didn’t work for him, Smythe-Jones ran the meeting and began issuing instructions, mostly to me.
“I received a ransom note this morning here at the hotel. They want us to deliver a million dollars to them. I am to collect the money and give it to Manning, who will be sent instructions this evening. The note included a postscript. It said to check the top floor of the parking garage at Fourth and Wilshire in Santa Monica. What did they mean by that?”
I looked at Bill and he grabbed his phone. After a few quiet sentences, he closed the cell and looked around the room. “We’ll know in a few minutes, but does anyone want to guess what we will find? Paul?”
I told everyone what happened the previous night at my house, the deal the kidnappers thought they made with me to lay off the murder investigation, and my assumption that there would be a few bodies at the garage, bodies of the people who had actually killed Sarah.
My story was met with silence. Bill’s cell rang. He listened for a moment, and looked at me and nodded.
I had a dilemma – street justice had spoken, and the nimrods that had killed Sarah by accident were now history. But to my way of thinking, that didn’t let the perps who ordered her kidnapped off the hook for her murder.
Now all I had to do was deliver the money, get Mandy released, find evidence of the kidnappers’ connection to Sarah’s death, and tie it all up in a nice bow for Bill and the FBI. No problem.
I also had a few questions. Smythe-Jones was a big-time mob boss from the East Coast. He had paid his debt and was now working with the FBI. Yeah, right. But the tricky question was this: How did the kidnappers know about my relationship with Sarah and with Melissa’s (and Mandy’s) mother, Betty Beeson?
I looked at Smythe-Jones.
“Before we go any further, it’s time for a little truth telling,” I said. “You know more about all this than you are saying, and before I put my life on the line, I want to know the facts. There is someone in your organization, or former organization, who knows all about Sarah and her parentage. You aren’t telling the whole story.”
Smythe-Jones squirmed in his chair. “OK, Manning, I’ll tell you a story. But only to you. The rest of you, leave the room.”
The LAPD and the FBI weren’t happy, but they got up. Melissa pulled a silent question at her grandfather, but then reluctantly joined the file out of the room. Paulo kept his chair. “It’s OK, he can stay. You’ll tell him anyway.”
“When I sent ‘Karen,’ that’s Betty Beeson’s real name, out here to LA to oversee the family business, I didn’t realize what a problem we had. That grade ‘B’ actress Maria LaFlonza with her Howard Hughes connections, the problems with the parking scams, all the hands sticking out looking for payoffs in City Hall – it was probably too much for a young girl to handle.
“But Karen did a pretty good job, kept under the local radar, and over the next 20 years built us a very good business here. Then LaFlonza got out of prison and started sticking her nose in where it wasn’t wanted. She knew where a lot of bodies were buried, and figured out who Karen was.
“This put Karen in a very difficult position,” Smythe-Jones said.
“She needed to take some personnel action, but the pressure was too great for her. She cracked, and you were there, Manning, when it all came down. Karen was dead, LaFlonza and her group were back in prison, and we had no one running the LA operation.
“I had my own problems, thanks to the FBI, and just let California slip away. The void was filled by a man who has ties to the old country. He ran a local parking operating company.”
I held up my hand. “Southern California Valet and Park.”
Smythe-Jones smiled. “You really are good, Manning. He has ties to my operation through the old country. He also knew Sarah. He was jealous of her husband. I think you can see where this is going.”
To be continued …