So, Now we are a Team
The boss of crackerjack PI Paul Manning’s girlfriend was in jail for the murder of a parking garage manager. Paul was trying to help and discovered that the boss was having an affair with Mary Hartison, wife of the very jealous gangster Moncrief Hartison. Mary had confessed the affair to Paul just before he had been hit over the head and ended up facing Hartison in his living room. Hartison thought Paul was the guy who was cheating with his wife.
Ah, yes, the woman next to him, who first hired Paul to keep her husband, who turned out not to be her husband, out of trouble and who had, an hour earlier, told Paul she was divorcing her millionaire gangster husband, had turned into a seductress who seemed very comfortable with the man she was trying to divorce.
Before he could say anything, he was frog-marched out the door toward a truck. “Stop!” It was Mary. “I want a last word with this creep,” she said. Then, laughing, she sashayed back to Hartison’s side. He had to move quickly before he was shoved into the truck. He needed to hide the knife Mary had put in his hands.
On Hartison’s orders, two of his gunsels hauled him off to the Mojave to die. But a desert hermit named James Nelson found him. He told Nelson the story of why he was dumped in the desert. “Well, if we’re going to get to the bottom of this caper,” said Nelson, “We had better get going.” A state Investigator’s license was clipped to the sun visor of his car. “I’m trying to run to ground the man who caused me some ‘issues’ a few years back – and cost me my marriage, my profession and nearly my life – one Moncrief Hartison.”
I was stunned. The desert rat who had rescued me from certain death in the Mojave, was a PI and on the trail of the very man who had me abandoned in the desert. As we headed down Interstate 15 to my office in Hollywood, Nelson, a college professor, told his story.
“Hartison was a big donor at the university when I was teaching geology. He funded a lot of my research. He also used his money, suave persona and good looks to seduce my fiancée. OK, I was working long hours and didn’t give her the time she wanted, but he was right there to pick up the pieces of a failing courtship.
“He made sure my research failed by recommending assistants and then bribing them to cook the books. The university discovered the bad data and I was out, and Hartison was in – with a new wing at the “U,” my fiancée, and data that showed his new country club in Palm Springs was going to be built on a site directly over the San Andreas earthquake fault.
“Hartison had the data changed to make it appear that the fault line ran miles to the east. However, I was in no position to stop him,” Nelson said. “He built the country club, made millions, and is now just hoping that ‘the big one’ won’t hit any time soon.”
The pieces began to fall into place. “What was your fiancée’s name.”
“Was she pregnant when you two broke up?”
Silence filled the car. Nelson pulled over and stopped alongside the road. He turned and faced me.
“How could you possibly have known that? Mary was pregnant, but I heard she lost the baby just after she threw in with Hartison.”
I decided it was best to fill him in with the rest of the story.
“I met that baby last night at Mary’s lodge at Lake Arrowhead. She told me that he was her son and not Hartison’s, and that Hartison didn’t like the boy since he wasn’t his birth father, and was making both her and the boy’s life miserable.”
Nelson just stared at me.
You know how the mist begins to lift just after sunrise and fuzzy images of trees and houses begin to sharpen around you? The mist was beginning to lift for me.
Nelson didn’t just “happen” to come by and rescue me in the desert. He knew where I would be. He was much more involved in this caper than just an interested party. I didn’t have the whole story, but I was going to get it when we got to my office.
“I think it’s time you told me what this is all about,” I said. “You didn’t just ‘happen’ to be driving down that road in the desert and ‘happen’ to find me. You knew where I would be. There is no other explanation.”
Nelson took another sip, or maybe it was a gulp, of Jack and looked a little sheepish.
“OK, I have been investigating the parking operation at the building where Mary works. I didn’t know she worked there until I got involved and met her in the hallway. Mary told me she knew about the missing money but to give her time for her friend the garage manager to make good on it. I agreed but kept a close eye.
“I was following the two of them when they went to your office, and then I found out about the manager’s murder, Mary’s boyfriend’s involvement, and the fact that she was two-timing Hartison. Mary was always a free spirit and liked to live close to the edge.
“And that’s it. I followed you up to Arrowhead,” Nelson said, “and to be honest, I was the one who knocked you out at the restaurant in Running Springs. I wanted to find out what was going on, but before I could talk to you, someone walked into the men’s room and I took off. He dragged you to a car. I followed you to Hartison’s and then Hartison’s truck to where you were dumped in the desert.
“Look, Mary is a nice woman. But she and I aren’t meant for each other, never were. She liked the high life and I was a university professor. My goal was to expose Hartison and get my reputation back. I didn’t realize that Mary was still with him. I certainly didn’t know I had a son.”
“I don’t think Mary is ‘with’ Hartison,” I said. “I think she is there out of fear and would leave in a second if she thought she could. She did give me the knife so I could escape in the desert. She doesn’t know what to do, particularly as it relates to her, or your, son.
“But parking,” I asked, “what does all this have to do with parking?”
“I don’t really know,” Nelson said. “I was just getting into it in my guise as a PI when I met Mary and it all blew up. I just know there was a lot of cash and it was going missing.”
I was puzzling through all this when there was a hard knock at the office door. I took my gun out of the desk drawer, motioned Nelson over behind a filing cabinet, and opened the door.
To be continued …