Another Ransom Demand …
Private investigator Paul Manning found a dead woman 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, William Smythe-Jones, 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, he was told there was another kidnapping, Melissa’s twin. Paul knew that Smyth-Jones was deeply involved in this caper and demanded clarification. “I had my own problems, thanks to the FBI,” the former mob boss said, “and I 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.” Paul held up his hand and said: “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.”
It was time for another chat with Antonio Petrochelli, owner of California Valet and Park. The company ran the parking at the Hollywood Bowl, was in a perfect position to ensure my car was blocked by the car with Sarah’s body in the trunk, and, we now knew, there was a connection between Sarah, her dead husband, and the company’s owner.
Before I met with Petrochelli, I needed more information about Sarah’s husband’s so called “accidental “ death. After her husband died under mysterious circumstances in the south of France, Sarah came to California to stay with her best friend, my wife’s sister.
Paul Jr. had spent some time in Nice and knew a couple of the detectives there. He called and got the skinny on the death of Sarah’s husband.
“The police in Provence were helpful,” Paulo told me. “Pierre LeTrec, Sarah’s husband, died when his car left the road and hit a tree. It was a dry road, middle of the day, no skid marks. The police said it looked like he just drove the car into the tree.
“Here’s the funny part,” Paulo said. “LeTrec was ‘connected’ with the French branch of the mob. I guess that’s how he met Sarah, at some meeting either in New Jersey or in France that was attended by her uncle. It might also be why there was a falling out between Sarah and her Uncle. He probably didn’t want her marrying into the business.
“Anyway, my buddy with the Nice police told me that the death seemed too pat. The brake lines were smashed in the wreck, so they were unable to see if there was any tampering. But unless it was suicide, the only way it could have happened was if he had no brakes. It was an inconclusive investigation, and since he was mobbed up, they really didn’t spend a lot of time on it.
“Sarah was devastated,” Paulo said. “She returned to the States, made up with her uncle, then headed to California to mend a broken heart. You know the rest; she was kidnapped and accidentally killed.”
It all started to come together. Petrochelli was jealous of Sarah’s husband and reached out through his connections in Europe to have him taken out of the picture, but he wanted it to be an accident so Sarah wouldn’t blame him. Petrochelli knew she would probably end up in LA with her best friend, and he could then slowly get back into her life first as a shoulder to cry on, then later as a lover.
The kidnapping was a little icing on the cake. As long as Sarah didn’t find out, he could cash in on some of her uncle’s millions, and have the girl, too. Petrochelli didn’t think that his “gang that couldn’t shoot straight” would accidentally kill her and get me involved more deeply than just a bag man delivering the ransom money.
Petrochelli was enraged that his true love was killed and wreaked revenge on the bumbling killers, but then he figured that as long as Sarah’s uncle was involved, why not continue the plan. So he picked up one of Smythe-Jones’ nieces and started the program all over again.
The intercom buzzed: “You have a call on line one, Paul. Sounded strange; you had better take it.” If Shirley said take it, I should take it.
“Manning, listen carefully. I’m going to tell you this only once. Get the million from Smythe-Jones. Be on the roof of the parking garage at 9321 Wilshire at 10 p.m. Have your cell phone on. We will give you additional instructions then.
“Oh, and Manning, come alone and don’t screw it up. You give us the money, we give you Mandy; simple exchange. But if anything goes wrong, you’ll have another body on your hands.”
Looked like my meeting with Petrochelli was going have a change of venue. I was meeting the kidnapper, who most likely was our Mr. Petrochelli, just after 10 tonight.
To be continued ...