It Just Gets Better and Better
It was a beautiful evening at the Hollywood Bowl. We were celebrating Paulo’s engagement to Grace. Shirley and I were two proud parents. The wine was perfect, the food from Joachim Splichal’s Patina restaurant served in our box was delicious; and of course the LA Philharmonic was playing Tchaikovsky. What more could one say?
When we got to the car, it was boxed in. Stack parking is the way at the bowl. Paulo and I noticed a problem with the car behind us, and before long, the LAPD was there, along with the coroner. It was a dead body, lying on my business card. The woman, Sarah, turned out to be Shirley’s sister-in-law’s best friend; she also was the niece of a former mob capo de capos.
This guy, who went by the name of William Smythe-Jones, had cut a deal with the Feds and now seemed to be running them, rather than the other way around. He was with his grand-niece Melissa. She was the dead ringer for Betty Beeson, her mother, the woman who was killed sitting next to me about 18 months before. Curiouser and curiouser.
When Sarah was kidnapped, Smythe-Jones wanted me to be the go-between. (I guess my detecting wiles impressed him after I botched the capture of his daughter who was running the mob’s LA operation.) He told the kidnappers they had to deal with me. His “scenario” was just super:
“When we got the ransom note, I immediately contacted my ‘handler’ at the Bureau. I told them I wanted you involved, and here you are. Thank you for that. I only wish you could have been on board sooner. Maybe Sarah wouldn’t be dead.”
There was one minor problem. Sarah had my business card in her hand, and the kidnappers knew who I was before she was taken. They had to have been able to set up all that parking mess at the Hollywood Bowl. Plus, they left the ransom note on my doorstep. I explained all this to Smythe-Jones, or whatever his name was.
“So you were involved before I contacted you.” He paused. “This is most interesting; it makes matters easier. Manning, I want you to find the killers of my niece.”
I won’t go into the part about Melissa’s thinking she was my daughter. She wasn’t, unless they changed how one makes babies, but Paulo helped and let her down easy.
When I got home, the house was filled with kidnappers in masks. They told me that Sarah’s death was a mistake, and the idiots that did it would be “taken care of.” They also told me that the kidnapping was still on, but with a different victim, Melissa’s twin sister, Mandy.
This had become a soap opera, and I was between the bar and the tub.
I met the next day with Smythe-Jones and put the squeeze on him. He told me the “rest of the story”:
“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,” Smythe-Jones said. “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.”
I had spoken to SCVP’s owner, Antonio Petrochelli, when I was trying to figure out how they were able to block in my car at the Hollywood Bowl. His company ran the parking there. It looked like he was behind this all along.
Paulo and I walked out of the conference room, past the FBI and LAPD without saying a word, and drove to Petrochelli’s office in Culver City. The front door, normally requiring a buzzer to get in, was open. His good-looking blonde assistant was not at her desk. Petrochelli was, however, at his.
I called my best friend, Capt. Bill Vose, who was running the case for the LAPD.
“My God, Manning, not another body.”
To be continued...