Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook One: Death by Parking
Chapter 5 - The She-Wolf
I knew this wasn't the Bel-Air welcome wagon. The first clue was the black bag over my head. I was pretty sure I was OK because if this were a one-way ride, they wouldn't have wasted their time with the bag.
I also knew that Shirley and the Bel Air Patrol guy she was talking to outside the hotel had seen the whole incident and hopefully were doing something about it. In the meantime, the two gorillas on either side of me were limiting my options. I just sat back and waited.
The ride wasn't very long. After about 10 minutes, we came to a stop and I was escorted -- well, "dragged" might be a better word -- out of the car and taken into a house. We walked down a long hall and through a couple of rooms, and then I was told to sit and wait. The former inmates of the L.A. Zoo (or was it the Palermo Zoo?) remained, as did the hood.
A few minutes later, someone came into the room. He sat down a few feet in front of me (probably behind a desk), and then I got a surprise. It wasn't a "he"; the voice I heard came from a woman. It was clear, sultry, and had a wonderful Southern European accent. It was soft like the moonlight dancing on the Spanish Steps in Rome. But it was as clear as the howl of a female wolf on the slopes of Mt. Etna.
"Welcome, Mr. Manning," she said. "Sorry for all the histrionics, but I needed to speak to you and, at the same time, keep my identity unknown for at least a while longer. You understand, don't you?"
"The phone would have served the same purpose and not had you guilty of kidnapping," I responded.
"I don't like to use the phone. I feel that it's more effective to get one's point across in person," she said, emphasizing the word "point."
"Let's keep this short and sweet. You are meddling in a place where I don't want you to be. You are a bit above average in intelligence, and so you have probably surmised the identity of the group I represent."
At least she didn't dangle a participle. Must have learned English in school.
"My principals want no trouble. They just want to buy a few businesses here in L.A., and would prefer that you and the police keep your noses out of it. Let me say that your health, and that of Betty Beeson and Shirley Williams, will remain as it is if you keep to yourselves and out of our business with Art Ball."
I think I would have preferred it if her threat had been a little more veiled. She was about as subtle as the garlic in a plate of pasta with prawns. She got up and walked out without waiting for an answer. I was back in the movies, but this time it had mob written all over it.
I was then escorted out of the room. It was back to the big black car and then a 15-minute drive, which I was convinced was 15 minutes simply because they wanted me to believe that the house I had visited was a long way from the Bel-Air area. The car stopped and I was let out. They graciously left the black bag over my head. I removed the bag and realized I was standing about a block from the Bel Air Hotel.
Before I could take a step, a Bel Air Patrol car drove up with Shirley Williams and the Patrol's chief, Capt. Hankins, in the back seat. It was driven by a Patrol guy I knew from my sojourn with the outfit a few years back. His name was Jim Walsh. His Irish accent gave away his heritage, although he was born in Chicago, not County Cork.
"Betty and I gave chase after we saw you picked up at the hotel," Walsh said. "But we lost you up on Casiano. I radioed the captain, and he said to go back and pick him up at East Gate, and then we alerted all the cars on patrol. We spotted you again about six blocks from here. Looked to us like they were just driving around to confuse you."
"Well, Manning, it's good to see you're OK," said Hankins. "We were just a bit concerned."
Capt. Art Hankins was a former chief of detectives at the Beverly Hills PD. Upon his retirement, Hankins was hired by the fine citizens of Bel-Air to run their private police patrol; he had hired me when I got sideways with the LAPD. He had taken me under his wing and taught me the detective business. Many of the "landed gentry," including a large number of "A List" stars, live in Bel-Air and use the Patrol to wash their dirty laundry. Although the chief of this force, Hankins always went by his Beverly Hills PD title: captain.
It was the Captain and Jim, by the way, that picked up a certain singer's (and board chairman) kidnapped son walking along a street in the area after his release. He hid junior in his car's trunk to get by the reporters outside dad's gate. Papa showed his appreciation to Jim and the Captain in the usual way."We ran the plate," Hankins said. "It was stolen from a '53 Ford pickup. Had no relationship to that 'mob wagon' you were in. What's behind all this, Paul?"
Before I could answer, Shirley jumped out of the Patrol car, gave me a hug and pulled me into the car. She usually handles things like this pretty well. Guess that's what I lo... lo... lo... like about her. (Just can't quite say the "L" word, but if I ever do, Shirley most likely will be the recipient. Our relationship was great, but neither of us was ready to settle down. We both saw others, from time to time, but always seemed to drift back together.)
"Captain, I'll come by tomorrow and fill you in, but now Shirley and I still have a dinner to make. Would you like to join us?"
Hankins demurred. I knew he would, but if he hadn't, we would have had words later. Walsh dropped Shirley and me at the hotel, and the evening interruptus continued.
We walked across the short bridge to the lobby building. The Bel Air Hotel is a series of small cottages and buildings, each holding a few bedroom suites. It's in Stone Canyon in the heart of Bel-Air, and has a stream running through it. The lobby has photos of some of the former guests, including almost every movie star you ever knew; the king of England, when he was a commoner; and some junior senator from Massachusetts who was there on his honeymoon. He had married a socialite named Bouvier and picked this spot to hide from the limelight. Their photo was right next to that new bombshell who was sweeping Hollywood by storm, Marilyn Monroe.
The bar was like stepping into a 19th century English gentlemen's club. It was dark, with mahogany paneling, a piano, soft-leather sofas all around, a large crackling fire (even when it was 100 outside), and a barman who knew what you wanted without your having to tell him, as long as you had been there at least once before.
"Hi, Mr. Manning, got some 18-year-old Laphroaig back here. That OK? And a martini, up with two olives, for Miss Williams." I nodded and we sat on a sofa. He came over with the drinks, and a small crystal pitcher of spring water for me. He knew how single-malt whisky should be served.
I had just picked up the glass and was about to propose a toast to Shirley -- and a certain little notebook -- when I heard a voice that sounded exactly like moonlight dancing on the Spanish Steps. I turned around and got the shock of my life ...
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