Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 2: The Rendezvous
Chapter 4 - My Questions Get Attention
I was feeling pretty good as I left Dad at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Grace was not in danger, and no one had been hurt in the follow-up shooting in the ER. I headed over to Grace's office on Olympic to do some first-class detecting. It was about a 15-minute drive, down Robertson to a right on Olympic, through Century City, past the 405 and on to the so-called Olympic Corridor.
Century City is a designer complex with residential high-rise condos and retail shopping and restaurants built on the back lot of Fox Studios. Alcoa Aluminum was one of the partners in the project, and they say that if you look straight down at the development from above, the matching 60-story triangular-shaped theme towers form the familiar Alcoa logo. If you are anybody in the media or legal profession related to it in L.A., your office is in Century City.
The Olympic Corridor is the "second Century City" on L.A.'s west side. There are about half a dozen relatively new mid-rise office buildings, with some second-tier media, financial and service companies filling them out. It's a modern section of L.A., but has a rich history.
Around the turn of the century, Japanese immigrants settled there and planted wonderful gardens throughout the area. Even today, you can see some in overgrown backyards, with the quiet art of the gardener mixing with the ravages of Mother Nature. However, WWII and subsequent internment took their toll, and when the residents returned, most of their properties were gone. They did resettle in the area, however, and Sawtelle Boulevard, which bisects Olympic, has become home to Japanese plant nurseries and to sake and sushi bars.
The parking structure was next to Grace's building. I drove in and went straight to the roof. It was empty, but I did notice that you could walk directly from the office building onto the roof of the garage, and that the entire roof was visible from the offices on that side of the tower. Grace had told my dad and me, just before the shot was fired, that she had seen suspicious activity on the roof -- two cars coming up to the roof daily, something changing hands, and then both leaving. I had thought drugs, but who knows?
I went down to the building office and asked for the security director; he had recommended our firm to Grace when the LAPD hadn't expressed a lot of interest in her story. I wasn't surprised to recognize an old friend.
The law enforcement community is a small one. And even though I was new in it, Dad's contacts and the fact that I grew up working cases with him meant I knew a lot of folks, including retired Santa Monica Deputy Police Chief Bill Shannon.
Outsiders think of L.A. as one big city, but in reality, there are a lot of smaller communities with their own police departments, such as Beverly Hills, Culver City, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Torrance and, of course, Santa Monica. Senior officers who retired after 30 years were in demand, particularly by property management companies, to serve as heads of security. Bill was one of them.
"Hi, Paul," Shannon said. "I thought you or your dad would be showing up pretty soon. I heard about the OK Corral activity at Cedars. Everybody OK?"
"Yes, Bill. No injuries, but I think Bill Vose was under attack. He was heading the LAPD press response team. Dad took him for a drink while I came over to check with you."
It's always best to give your seniors the lead. I was still considered a pup by most of the enforcement officers in the area. I had quickly learned to defer to them. We settled into Shannon's basement office, got coffee, and he began to talk.
"Grace told us she had seen two cars showing up every day on the roof of the garage next door. She was suspicious and, being a nosy gal, she actually went down to snoop around. When she did, she was spotted and chased but thought she had lost them. She must have been wrong."
"She came to me and I recommended that she call you two. I figured you had nothing better to do than squire a nice gal around and test your white charger protecting the pure and innocent. I didn't think you would get her shot up."
That last line got my dander up. "For your information, bucko, we are on this like white on rice. Dad and I will get the guys who shot her."
He held up his hands. "OK, OK, don't blow a gasket. You have your dad's temper and, I have to admit, his 'always get the girl' looks. You know, I actually almost asked your mom out on a date before she married your dad. I guess the word 'almost' is why I'm still a bachelor."
"OK, peace. Now where do I go from here?"
Shannon leaned back in his chair. "Magnum Properties, the owner of this building and my employer, also owns the garage next door. We have a private firm running the lot. It was built when the building was put up to meet the parking requirements set by the city.
"As usual, there are twice the number of spaces than we need, and that top floor is always empty," he said. "The connecting walkway runs from our third floor to the third floor of the garage, next to the elevator tower. Grace's office is on the ninth floor, overlooking the garage roof.
"She is some kind of graphic designer with Media Matters, that ad agency that just took over the Hollywood Bowl and Getty museum accounts," Shannon said. "I think she does very well ... just right for a guy like you."
Sheesh - Bill had tried to set me up. I guess my love life, or lack of it, was common knowledge in the retired law enforcement set. Enough of this; I had to get moving ... over to the garage and see what I could find. I thanked Bill, told him I would keep him in the loop, and walked next door.
I went to the garage office and spoke to a fellow who looked like the manager.
"Hi, I'm Paul Manning. I'm a private investigator looking into the shooting of Grace Lundquist. She parked in your garage. Can you tell me anything about her?"
He said nothing but entered something on his computer. "Grace Lundquist, $150 a month, works for Media Matters next door, lives on Armacost, drives a 2003 Accord, 4ABC123. That's all I know. When was she shot?"
"Today. Mind if I look around."
"No, go ahead, but I don't know what we have to do with that. This is just were she parked her car."
He printed out Grace's info and handed it to me. That in itself surprised me. As I walked out of the office, I thought I saw him reaching for his phone.
The garage was four levels, and I would guess about 200 spaces per level. It was, as Shannon had said, about half full. Most of the cars were on the first and third levels - with easy access to the building next door. I walked around to get the feel of the place. There appeared to be only two employees: the manager and the booth attendant at the exit. The sign said it was run by AB Parking. Where had I heard of that before?
As I started to walk to my car, two of the biggest guys I had ever seen stepped out from behind a column. Obviously, my questions had gotten someone's attention. I didn't hesitate for a second. I slammed my heel into the big one's instep, and he fell into the bigger one. I then kicked the bigger guy in his stomach, walked to my Jeep, drove carefully around the writhing bodies, paid my fee at the exit and left.