Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook One: Death by Parking
Chapter 10 - I Get the Whole Story
I took Jeeves into the library and poured him a dram of Laphroaig. He took it in a single gulp. Fortified, he told me the story.
Turns out that Jeeves was more than just Ball's houseman. He was also his personal assistant. He knew everything that was going on.
"I've been with Art for almost 10 years. In the beginning, it was just a parking operation and we grew quickly. But Art became greedy. Parking wasn't enough for him. He began to dabble in numbers, prostitution, gambling. When he found out how easy it was to launder money through the garage, it was icing on the cake.
"I had no problem with the numbers, gambling and all," Jeeves said. "I was making a lot of money. But it began to go south when the Mob arrived. They didn't want the garage; they wanted Art's entire operation. The idiot. He should have let them have it. He had all the money he needed. But he decided to fight them. And that woman -- what a piece of work."
"Woman?" I asked. "Do you mean Maria LaFlonza?"
"Yeah, that's her. She was a 'B' actress, but she used that as a cover. She runs the Mob's operation here on the West Coast. And she wants Art's operation in the worst way. I guess she'll get it now."
I heard a sound in the next room, and one of LaFlonza's gunsels walked in with his gun drawn. At that moment, a car pulled up outside. The lady herself swept in with two more of her pack. It just kept getting better and better.
"Well, Mr. Manning," LaFlonza growled, "it looks like this round is going to me."
She looked over at her man.
"Sorry, boss," he said. "I had to shoot Ball. He was going for his gun."
"It's all right," she said. "Actually, it makes matters a bit easier. We'll just shoot Manning with Ball's gun, put your gun in Manning's hands, and we'll be clean on this one."
I didn't like the way this was going, at all.
"Wait just a minute," I said. "You can't go around shooting people. I assume you killed Gilberto Quintana at the garage and set up my client to take the fall?"
"Ah, Gilberto," she purred. "He was a nice guy, and a great lover. But he just couldn't get it right. I thought I had control of him, but it turned out he was really spying for Ball, not for me. I met him at the garage that night. We were going to a late dinner. When I mentioned his double-dealing, he was understandably upset. I'm afraid the knife is my weapon of choice.
"As for your client, she just happened to be conveniently nearby.
"OK, fellas, let's set this one up," LaFlonza said. "Someone may have heard the shots. Jeeves, give the guys a hand with Ball's body."
I shot Jeeves a look, and he smiled. "Well," he shrugged, "she pays top dollar."
This wasn't looking good. I was running out of options, and I didn't hear any cavalry coming over the hill. No one had called the police. Jeeves and another of the mobsters moved Ball's body so it looked as if he was shooting at something. Then they shoved me over in front of the body. Jeeves took Ball's gun and pointed it at my chest. No, this wasn't looking good at all.
At that moment, a thick Irish brogue cut through the tension. "Hold it right there, boyo, and drop that gun."
My buddy Jim Walsh from the Bel Air Patrol walked into the room. "Thought you could use a little help about now, Paul."
I started breathing again and smiled.
Seems Jim had asked one of his Patrol buddies to take Shirley home and then followed me over to Ball's house. He got there just in time to see LaFlonza arrive, and had been standing behind the door with his gun drawn during the entire affair.
I picked up the phone and called Sgt. Bill Vose at the LAPD. He said he would dispatch a prowl car and then be right over. When he arrived, Bill flashed his badge for all to see, and then I told the story. Vose arrested LaFlonza and her bunch on the spot.
"You're wasting your time, officer," she said. "My lawyers will have us out of jail before lunch."
"Perhaps," Vose said. "But with the testimony of Manning and Walsh, plus the fact that this knife here in your purse is a perfect match with the one we found in Quintana, my guess is that the jury won't have much trouble coming to a decision. Take her away."
"I think this round is mine," I said as LaFlonza walked out in handcuffs, "and the match, too."
The next day, Shirley and I met with DC McGuire, our parking expert; my client, Betty Beeson; and Betty's landlady, Marlene Crowley, for lunch at the 19th hole at Rancho Park Golf Course.
"What I don't understand," said Crowley, "is why the Mob cared about the notebook that had the money-laundering information. They nearly killed Betty and ripped her room apart looking for it."
"They didn't," I said. "That was one of Ball's guys. Ball would have been in big trouble with the feds if Betty had figured out what was going on and turned him in. Ball was just fortunate that she was from Iowa and not Manhattan. She didn't know what she had in the notebook. The Mob cared about Ball's other activities. The money laundering was just an 'extra' for them."
"So, Betty, what's up for you? " I asked. "Your former boss is pushing up daisies."
"Betty and I have decided to enter into a partnership," DC said. "I will front for her, and she can run the operations. Parking operations, that is. Our first location will be the Argyle, arranged through the good offices of Shirley here."
It all seemed to have worked out. The murderer was in jail, Betty and DC were in business, and then I looked at Shirley.
"I think it's time you made a choice, Paul Manning," she said. "Me or that endless line of nurses and waitresses and beautiful clients."
Shirley gave me a look that told me I had little choice. I began to wonder if I would have been better off back with that she-wolf with the voice like moonlight on the Spanish Steps.
At that moment, the bartender called my name and said I had a phone call. It was my answering service. Seems a new client had called, and it was an emergency. I asked whether the client was male or female.
Oh boy, I was in trouble again.
With apologies to Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker.
© Bricepac, Inc, 2006