Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 1: Death By Parking
Chapter 7 - I died and went to heaven
If this was heaven, I was glad I had died. When I opened my eyes, I saw the most beautiful angel I could imagine, dressed in white. Plus, she was stroking my chest with a sponge filled with warm water. Ahh, what a life...or death.
She smiled and asked if I knew my name. Heck, didn't St. Peter have a list or something? Why should she ask me? But she was so pretty, how could I resist. I told her that I was the late Paul Manning, L.A. Private Eye. She laughed and asked what I was late for.
"You know, late, as in dead, passed on, stone cold," I said. She laughed again. "You're not dead; you're in City of Angels hospital. Actually, you're pretty lucky. No broken bones, only a slight concussion. It could have been a lot worse. When you came in, your clothes smelled like gasoline. I understand your car is a total wreck."
Suddenly, it all came flashing back: the dead body, my beautiful client, the shootout in a Bel-Air mansion, being kidnapped by the Mob and threatened by a woman with a voice that sounds like the moonlight on the Spanish Steps in Rome. All this having to do with the proposed takeover of Art Ball's parking operation. My client, Betty Beeson, is night manager for one of Ball's locations and now sits in jail, accused of her direct supervisor's murder. Oh yes, then there's the notebook that Betty gave to my girlfriend, Shirley Williams, for safekeeping. After my brief kidnapping, I had met Shirley at the Bel Air Hotel for drinks and dinner, and to pick up the notebook. Then there was that actress, Howard Hughes, JFK, the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, the CIA, being chased by the Mob, and that road grader on Mulholland Drive. Sure seems clear to me.
I started to get up and a brass band went off in my head. The angel told me to rest, that she was finished with the "in bed" bath I was getting, and that the doctor would be in later to talk to me. I asked what day it was and found that I had been out only a few hours.
At least if I didn't move I could think about this case. Imagine, killing someone over a parking lot. It seemed absurd. But Ball did live in Bel-Air, so unless his daddy had bucks, there must be something to this parking thing. As for the Mob, why would they want a parking lot? What could be interesting to them in dimes and quarters?
It all must revolve around Betty's notebook. I had sent the original to my landlord in Idaho for safekeeping, but had a copy in my jacket. I wondered if it was still around. When Angel came back, I asked about my personal effects. They were in a drawer at the bedside, she said, and sure enough, there was the copy of the notebook. It smelled a bit like gasoline.
I leafed through the notebook. It was divided into days of the week, a page for each day. At the top of each page, below the date, were two five-digit numbers and a three-digit number, like 15052 -- 15451 -- 225. Then there were columns of numbers, each containing four rows:
15052 0800 1152 1
15053 0815 1500 1
15057 0815 0902 .25
15058 0820 0924 .50
And so on, with the last number being 15451. And at the bottom of the page was a number circled D=$725.
None of it made sense. I needed some help to figure it out.
I picked up the phone and called my girlfriend Shirley. She ran a building -- where the murder had taken place -- and knew everyone in L.A. I thought she might be able to recommend someone who could help. She said that the parking business was relatively new, but that that Art Ball had taken over her building's garage from an old-timer who might help: "DC" McGuire. He had retired after running some parking lots in L.A. and in New York City. I called DC and got his wife. He would call me back when he got off the golf course that afternoon.
Then the Angel came back into my room and forced a pill on me. I woke up six hours later with the phone ringing.
"This is DC," said the voice at the other end of the line. "I understand you want to talk parking." I explained that I was indisposed at the moment, and he volunteered to come by the hospital later than afternoon. "I'm retired and have little to do, except golf."
DC was still dressed in plus-fours, a fancy shirt and knee socks when he arrived. He looked like he had just stepped off the last green of the Olde Course at St. Andrews, not Rancho Park Golf Course in West L.A.
"I ran the auditing department for a large parking group in New York," DC told me. "Then they sent me to L.A. to solve some problems here. I liked it and stayed."
I told him what had happened and showed him the notebook. I had no choice. It was Greek to me, but maybe this retired parking pro could sort it out. DC looked at the book for about five minutes and started to laugh. "I would have to see the lot and look at the books there to be sure," he said between chuckles, "but I think you have a laundry on your hands."
"Huh? I didn't see anything that looked like a laundry at the lot. Just a bunch of cars and ..."
"No, not that kind of laundry -- a money laundry. Someone is turning dirty cash into legit funds, and using the parking lot to do it. See, if you make a bunch of money illegally on prostitution or running a gambling parlor, you have a lot of folding green. But how can you use it? People would get suspicious if you showed up to buy a house with $25,000 in cash. And you can't just deposit it in the bank; the Feds would begin to wonder as to the source of your income. Parking is a cash business. No one is going to actually account for all the money. There's no inventory to list and track, so unless you are really knowledgeable about the parking business, there is no way to prove just how much money is collected on any given day.
"In parking, you are renting space by time. Who knows just how many cars come and go and how long they stay? So although you actually collect, say, $225 on a given day, who says you can't put $750 or $1,000 in the bank? At that moment, the additional $525 or $775, which may be the result of a bank robbery or numbers running, becomes perfectly legitimate. You pay your taxes, and go buy your house or limo, or whatever."
"But," I asked, "how could laundering $500 or $750 a day mean much to a group the size of the Mob?"
"Well, if you have 50 lots at $500 a day, the numbers add up fast," DC said. "By the way, whoever kept these figures must have had a lot of time on their hands and a grasp of accounting." I immediately thought of Betty's work hours on the night shift and of her accountant father in Iowa. "I wish I had that person working for me. We could have found a lot of theft," he added.
My head was spinning and it wasn't from the run-in with the road grader. It still didn't make any sense. If money was being laundered in Ball's parking lots and the local Mob was involved, wouldn't they have cut a deal before they started moving money thought the books? Or maybe they thought they had a deal but my single-malt scotch-loving friend, Art Ball, had reneged on it. Maybe he didn't know the rules of the game these folks played.
I needed more details, and the person to get them from was Betty. The problem was that I didn't know what questions to ask. I had the fountain of all parking knowledge right in front of me: DC. Maybe it was time to forge a stronger relationship. Golfers drink. Retired folks who play golf drink a lot. We agreed to meet for cocktails at the 19th hole at Rancho Park the next afternoon. DC left.
The doctor who had dropped in just before DC arrived had told me I would be released tomorrow morning. He wanted to keep an eye on me overnight. The rest would do me good; plus, I could get a bit better acquainted with my new guardian Angel.
She was going off-shift and dropped in to chat. Turns out her name was Mary. She sat on the bed and was holding my hand and saying all the nice things nurses know how to say when my girlfriend, Shirley, walked through the door with a bouquet of flowers.
Now Shirley and I don't have a fully committed relationship; however, she is definitely more committed than I. Her smile went to stone in an instant, and with a voice that could have frozen water said, "Well, glad to see you are feeling better." She flung the flowers on the bed and stalked out.