Death by Parking – Episode V: The Shakedown
But I Hate Divorce Cases
Private investigator Paul Manning Is helping girlfriend Shirley’s boss, Larry, who had been seeing a tenant (Mary) in his building, a married tenant. Now Larry’s in jail for the murder of the building’s parking manager, Miguel. Mary ran out of her office in tears. She was heading out to her cabin at Big Bear. Manning drove the two hours to the mountain resort east of LA in an hour and a half. He found the cabin in a stand of pines overlooking Big Bear Lake. When he knocked, the door swung open. Manning just knew what he was going to find when he went inside. Boy, was he wrong.
It was a large place, lots of wood and open beams. There was a fire in the stone fireplace to the left as I entered the great room. Through the glass straight ahead, I could see the sun shimmering off the lake.
There were large colorful rugs on the slate floor and furniture that looked as if it had been made out of twisted branches. Big pillows covered the chairs and sofas, which were leather and looked very comfortable.
This was a rich person’s home, not some cabin you visited when it wasn’t too cold. I was wondering if I had the right place when Mary Williams – or was it Hartison? – walked out of the bedroom to the right. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. She fit right in with the décor.
When Mary saw me, she stopped, put her hand to her mouth and gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, let’s see. I came to find you. As near as I can tell, you have lied to me about just about everything you have told me today.
“Since I saw you this morning, your ‘husband’ – who in fact turned out to be Miguel, the parking manager at Shirley’s building – was murdered. You were standing over the body. Larry Levinson, the building owner, has been having an affair with you, and now he’s under arrest for that murder. I’m representing him.”
“You can’t,” Mary said, “I hired you to help me.”
“You don’t need any help,” I said. “The police know you didn’t do it, and the person you were concerned about is dead.”
“But you must help me. I hired you first.”
“No, you didn’t sign a contract and didn’t pay a retainer. I said we would talk about that later.”
Mary started to sob – I hate it when they do that – and collapsed on the sofa. I started to walk over to her when a man walked out of the bedroom. I had never seen him before.
He was 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and looked rock solid. He had that wavy hair that men like me, who don’t have it, hate. There were those blue eyes, chiseled chin, and straight white teeth. I’m sure he was an actor.
“Mom, what did he do to you?”
Mom? Whose mom? What was going on here?
“Mr. Manning, you have to help me,” Mary said. “Yes, I was seeing Larry, but I had left my husband.
“Miguel has been a friend, just a friend, and I was afraid he would do something. He wanted to come with me to your office, but I didn’t want him any further involved. The act with the gun was just that, so he could get in to see what was going on. Miguel was a little crazy,” Mary said, “but a nice guy, and he was protecting me.
“This is my son, Roger. He’s home from college. He’s going to Stanford. Roger knows everything, Mr. Manning.”
“Which is a lot more than I do,” I said. “As you might imagine, I have a few questions.”
“Before you ask them, there’s one more thing. I’m being blackmailed. Miguel was helping me out by stealing from the garage. I’m guessing, but I think the blackmailers killed him. I know Larry didn’t. He would do anything to protect me, but he didn’t know about the blackmail.”
“What did the blackmailers have on you?”
“My husband is Moncrief Hartison. We are going through a very sticky divorce. Roger’s father was my first husband – I married right out of high school and Roger came along quickly. Jim, my first husband was killed in Korea. I met Moncrief a few years after that, and we got married. He has come to hate Roger. Moncrief is sterile, and he resents the fact that he has a stepson.
“In the end, that’s what came between us and is the key for the divorce. Moncrief is extremely wealthy,” Mary said. “I don’t want anything for me, but I do want Roger to be able to finish medical school.
“Moncrief is trying to cut us off. My lawyer says he’s sure we can win, but a hint of scandal could cause a lot of problems.
“That’s why I’m so upset,” Mary said. “This will all come out and Moncrief will win and Roger will have to leave school. I really need your help, Mr. Manning.”
“Well, I guess since Larry loves you so much, he wouldn’t mind if I spread my time around a bit, “ I said.
“Moncrief has become unbearable,” Mary said. “He would do most anything to hurt Roger and me. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Does he know you’re here?”
“No. This is actually my place. Jim’s parents left it to me. Moncrief doesn’t know I have it.”
“OK, you stay here and keep your head down. By the way, what do you do in Larry’s building?”
“I run a small accounting firm,” Mary said. “I do the books for a number of companies around Hollywood. Most have something to do with the movie business. I should tell you that I also do the books for Artie’s Parking. That’s how I met Miguel and began to suspect that, nice as he is, he was cooking the books downstairs.”
“So there was a bit of truth in that story you told me in my office.”
“Yes, I know a bit about the parking business. I was covering some for Miguel because he was helping me with the blackmail. I have to make it right with Artie. He’s been good to me.”
“Wow, one step at a time,” I said. “First I have to get Larry out of jail; then we can figure out who is behind the blackmail. After we sort out all that, we can deal with your boss. I’m pretty sure we can explain the problem, assuming we can come up with the money that you have paid and return it to its rightful owner.
“Now, sit tight and relax,” I said. “Call me if anything out of the ordinary happens. I have an operative near here in San Bernardino that I use from time to time. I’ll have him come up and keep an eye on the place. I’ll call you every morning and night and give you an update.”
Mary threw her arms around me and gave me a tight hug.
“Thanks, Mr. Manning. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
As I drove down the hill back to LA, I reviewed the bidding. We had a dead body, garage manager Miguel, in Shirley’s building. Shirley’s boss, Larry, was in jail for the murder and did everything possible to make himself look guilty. Miguel was Mary’s friend and had stolen money from the garage to help her pay off blackmailers so that her soon-to-be-ex-husband, gazillionaire Moncrief Hartison, wouldn’t find out about Mary’s little fling with Larry and cut off his stepson’s college money.
Shouldn’t be difficult to sort that out. I would start with a frank discussion with Bill Vose, the LAPD lieutenant and my old boss, who was in charge of the case.
I stopped for dinner at a roadside diner in Running Springs. Had a great steak, apple pie and coffee. I went to use the men’s room, and as I was washing my hands, I caught a reflection in the mirror. It was a big guy, and he had something in his hand, and his hand was raised above his head.
The next thing I knew, everything went black.
To be continued ...
Article Abstract from May, 2010