And So It Begins ...
A beautiful blonde was sitting in the chair opposite my desk. She was everything a man could want – tall, willowy, curves in all the right places, and hair that ... well, let’s just say men would kill to get their fingers into those curls.
She was crying.
I guess I would be crying, too, if my husband were standing next to me accusing me of infidelity and pointing a gun at the chest of the man sitting on the other side of the desk – my desk. Pointing the gun at me.
“OK, let’s not do anything crazy,” I said with more courage in my voice than I felt. Six pounds of pull on that trigger and I was singing with the angels – and I’m not a good singer. “Calm down and tell me what this is all about,” I said.
“All about? You are sleeping with my wife, that’s what it’s all about.”
“Listen, fellow, your wife is beautiful and all that, but I don’t even know her name, and I’ve never seen her before about two minutes ago when she walked into this office, so why don’t you sit down, lay the gun on the desk, and tell me what this is all about.”
He deflated like a stuck balloon. The gun was on the desk, he was in the chair, she was sniffing. I took the gun and put it in my desk drawer. He put his head in his hands.
“I didn’t know what to do. I found your business card in her jewelry box. I assumed she was seeing you.” The wife sniffed again.
“First, why don’t you two tell me your names?”
“I’m Joe Williams; this is my wife, Mary.”
“Pleased to meet you.” I’m really one of the best at these Emily Post moments.
“Now, what makes you think your wife is having an affair?”
He looked at her and it came spilling out like beer from a cold tap.
“She’s changed. She’s secretive. She keeps strange hours. She hangs up the phone when I enter the room. The signs are all there. So I followed her this morning and here you are. I assumed ... ”
“OK, now, Mrs. Williams, Mary, why don’t you tell me why you are here?”
She looked at her husband, took a deep breath, and said: “I got your business card from Shirley. She is the building manager where I work and we are friends. She said you would help me.”
Ah, Shirley, my on-again, off-again girlfriend. We currently were on again and I liked it. Good girl; she was out there getting me some business.
“I’m in big trouble, Mr. Manning, and I couldn’t tell Joe. He would do something stupid like he did just now. I love him, Mr. Manning, but he goes off half-cocked and he could get himself hurt.
“I work for a large accounting firm,” she said. “I’m the office manager and handle most of the administrative tasks. One of them is issuing parking permits for the lot next to the building. I pass out the tags that people hang on their mirrors. We change them every month. Usually I take a check down to the fellow who runs the parking and he gives me the new permits. They are a different color each month. I then pass them out to the people who are eligible for parking.
“This month I went down and there was a new parking manager. He said that they had a new policy and I should pay for the permits in cash. If I did, my company would get a big discount and I would get a ‘finder’s fee,’ he called it.
“Now I’m just an office manager,” Mary said, “but I knew this was a scam of some kind. So I told him to take his parking permits and, well, the location of where I wanted him to put them wasn’t too ladylike.
“I went back to my office and calmed down. The phone rang and it was the parking manger. He was angry and told me that I had better have the cash by this Friday or our company would get no parking.
“I was stuck, Mr. Manning. I couldn’t go to my boss; parking is my responsibility. This guy was threatening me. Joe caught me talking to Shirley, and I didn’t want him to know I was in trouble.”
“Threaten my wife, will he? I’ll take that parking guy apart.”
Williams stood up and headed for the door.
“Stop him, Mr. Manning. He’ll get hurt.”
Williams wasn’t exactly the biggest guy in the room. In fact, he was 5-foot-5 and 145. He was like a bantam rooster. All fluff and no beak.
“Wait a minute, Williams,” I said. “Before we take this guy down, we need a plan.”
I figured that was the best way to stop him for the moment. Involve him in the process. He stopped, turned around and sat down. I had everything under control, just not a lot of ideas as to where to go from there.
“OK, I’ll help you out. But you both need to understand that I know how to handle this; it’s what I do for a living. First, we need more information; I will get that. Then we’ll meet again and talk about it.
“There’s obviously a shakedown going on,” I said, “and I’m certain the building ownership knows nothing about it. I’ll talk to Shirley, and maybe we can get them to pay my bill.”
I was thinking on my feet but didn’t forget about collecting the fee. The Williamses left, reconciled – Paul Manning, marriage counselor – and I sat back to think about how to approach this.
Parking – what’s with parking? There’s no money in parking. It’s, what, 50 cents a day? What’s all the fuss? I was pondering this dilemma when the phone rang. It was Shirley.
“Paul, get over here right away. We have a problem, and my boss wants to hire you. There’s been an incident in our parking garage.”
“What kind of incident?”
“I’m not sure; it’s happening right now. I called the police, but Larry said to call you, too. He wants to be on top of the situation.”
Shirley’s building was only a block away. I grabbed my hat and ran out the office door. There were flashing lights and black-and-whites all over the place.
In the midst of it all, I saw my former boss, Bill Vose of the Los Angeles Police Department, shaking his head.
“Gosh, Manning, a shooting and you aren’t the first on the scene. Slipping?”
“Good morning to you too, Bill.” I was preparing a smart rejoinder when I looked down at the body. The last time I saw him was 20 minutes ago when he was holding a gun on me in my office. I looked up and there was his wife – a police officer on each side, a gun at her feet.
Oh boy, what had I gotten myself into this time?
To be continued …