Death by Parking – Episode V: The Shakedown
Shirley’s Boss’ Girlfriend, A Murderer?
Private investigator Paul Manning shows up at a parking garage where Joe Williams, his client of 20 minutes lies dead and Williams’ wife, Mary, who suspected a parking scam, is standing over a gun nearby. The police were looking for a murderer, but she wasn’t it. Then they grabbed a man with a gun. “Oh my God,” said Shirley. “That’s Larry Levinson, my boss.” LAPD Lieutenant Bill Vose said, “Well maybe this one will be easier than I thought. We are booking Levinson for murder one.” Shirley gasped. “Larry’s a good man; he wouldn’t do something like this. You have to help him, Paul.”
I was feeling better. Finally, I had a client that followed the typical Paul Manning scenario. Levinson was in jail for a crime. I had to help him. I was much more comfortable with that than representing Mary Williams, a client the police knew was innocent.
Of course I would help Shirley’s boss. I had met him, and he was a good guy. Plus, my guess was that if I didn’t, I would be sleeping alone for a long time, at least as far as Shirley was concerned. And since Levinson was rich, there was no problem with his coming up with bail.
I went to Parker Center, the LAPD’s headquarters, and sat down in front of Lt. Bill Vose’s desk. Also a good guy, he was my boss when I was on the police force and he still liked me. He didn’t want to show favoritism, so he gave me a hard time. It was just his way.
“Sheesh, Manning. I guess you are here about Levinson. What’s the matter, afraid your girlfriend will stop cooking you dinner if you don’t help him?
“You can try, but we have him dead to rights. The murder weapon in his hand, and witnesses that saw him arguing with the victim half an hour before the shooting. It’s open and shut.
“Wait, no need to say anything. Yes, you can see him, but forget about bail. He was turned down by the judge. He’s too wealthy and a flight risk. I’ll call down and clear it for you to see him.”
Vose said all that without taking a breath. We had done this so many times that it was becoming rather routine. I thanked him and went to holding. Levinson was sitting on a cot in the cell. He didn’t look too bad.
“Thanks for coming, Manning. I knew Shirley would call you in. Look, I didn’t do it. I found the gun on the floor when I was going down to the garage to find out what was going on.
“Yeah, I had a fight with Miguel, the garage manager. He was ripping off my tenants. I lost my cool. Normally, I would have called his boss, but I saw him in the hall and started yelling at him.”
Levinson paused and took a breath. I hadn’t said a word. I was concerned about his story. It seemed to play out too easy. Plus, he didn’t even seem to want to know what I thought. It was time to take over the interview.
“Larry, calm down,” I said. “Let me ask you a question or two. When and where did you have the run-in with Joe?”
“Actually, it was in the corridor that leads from the lobby to the garage. It’s open air, and anyone on the first floor of the building or the garage could have heard us, ‘specially me. I can turn up the volume a bit when I’m pissed off. And I’m pissed off.
“It was earlier this morning,” Levinson said. “I told him that I was madder than hell and he was in big trouble. I guess I may have said something like he would be lucky to survive. I meant his job, not his life.”
“Where did you find the gun?”
“That’s the funny thing. Shirley went down to the garage to meet you and see what was going on. I was on the phone. I finished my call and started down. When I got in the elevator, there it was, on the floor. I didn’t know it was a murder weapon. I picked it up and headed for the garage. That’s when the cops saw me, and here I am.”
“Hold it, Larry, something’s not quite right about this.” I said. “The shooter offs Joe and then heads back into the building? He or she gets into the elevator and heads up. He then drops the murder weapon where it’s sure to be found and leaves the elevator.
“You then just happen to use the same elevator to come down, find the gun, and walk into the arms of the cops. It’s a little too pat for me,” I said, “and for Lt. Vose. Come on, if I’m going to help you, I need the truth.”
“Paul, who is the ‘Joe’ you keep talking about? I had the argument with Miguel, the garage manager, the guy who was dead on the floor of the garage when I came down with the gun.”
“No, the body on the floor was Joe Williams, my client.”
“I know the garage manager. It was Miguel Rodriguez.”
I was confused and thought it best to say nothing. I waited him out.
“OK, Manning, I have to trust someone; it might as well be you. I found the gun in an office on the 10th floor. I went there to see a friend of mine. When I arrived, she wasn’t in her office. As I started out, she came in, out of breath. She told me she had run up the stairs. I calmed her down, told her to go back to work, and I started down to the garage. The gun was on the floor of her outer office.”
It was like pulling teeth, but I was getting a little more information.
“OK, who is this woman?”
“I can’t tell you,” Levinson said.
“Give me a break. All I have to do is ask Shirley.”
“Shirley doesn’t know; no one knows about her.”
“Baloney, there are no secrets in offices.”
“I tell you, Manning, no one knows and I’m not going to involve her.”
“Dammit, Larry, she already is involved.”
I left Levinson stewing in the holding cell. I knew where I could find him when I needed him. I went back to the building and up to Shirley’s office. I asked her whom Larry was “seeing” in the building.
“Oh, that. He is running around with Mary Hartison, down on the sixth floor. He thinks he’s keeping it a secret, but I know. She’s in a bad marriage, and Larry is her shoulder to cry on.
“Mary’s secretary, Joanie, is one of my best friends, and a great gossip. I probably know more about his love life than he does.”
I told Shirley what Levinson had told me.
“Yes, that was Miguel’s body on the floor.”
“No, it was Joe Williams, my client’s husband.”
Shirley cleared her throat and looked me in the eye.
“You have it all wrong, buster. The dead body was that of Miguel Rodriquez, our garage manager. I have never seen the woman the police had downstairs.”
“Mary Williams told me you had recommended her to me.”
“She may have been Mary Hartison, whom I have never met. I’ll give Joanie a call.”
Shirley hung up the phone. “Joanie says Mary Hartison ran out of the office in tears half an hour ago, saying she was heading out to her cabin at Big Bear. Hold on, big boy. Here’s the address.
“By the way, it was Joanie who told her boss Mary about you. I tell Joanie everything,” Shirley said.
I drove the two hours to the mountain resort east of Los Angeles in a hour and a half. On the way, I wondered just how much of “everything” Shirley had told Joanie. Oh well …
It took a couple of false turns and one “ask” for directions, but I found the cabin in a stand of pines overlooking Big Bear Lake.
I walked up to the door. When I knocked, the door swung open. I knew what I was going to find when I went inside. Boy, was I wrong.
To be continued ...
Article Abstract from April, 2010