Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 2: The Rendezvous
Chapter 5 - They Threaten my Wife!
Jim Walsh picked me up at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and we drove the short distance to the office. I thought about what I had learned over a whisky from my LAPD friend Bill Vose and the phone call with the voice from the past. Was Junior in trouble?
He arrived at the office five minutes later. I asked if he had any problems; he smiled and said there was an incident but no trouble.
"What do you mean, 'an incident'?"
"Well, we are definitely stirring up something, because as I left the garage, a couple of big bozos tried to rough me up. I used that trick you taught me a few years back, " Paul Junior said. "The instep and stomach routine?" I asked. Yep, he answered.
So we compared notes. The garage was run by AB Parking. That was the name of the company involved in our first case in the late '60s. I couldn't swear to it, but I thought the voice I heard on the phone belonged to Maria LaFlonza, the woman who had run the Mob's takeover attempt of AB back then.
But it couldn't be her; she was in prison for murder, wasn't she? I asked Shirley to call Bill Vose. When she located him, I picked up the extension.
"Bill, is Maria LaFlonza still in Tehachapi?" I waited while he checked.
"She's been out 10 years -- good behavior," Vose said.
"Well, she may have been on good behavior in prison, but she's back to her old tricks now." I filled Bill in on the phone call and Junior's parking garage incident.
"Do you want police protection?"
"No, that will scare them off. We'll handle this end."
With that, Vose went into a tirade about getting involved in police business, lying low, taking a long vacation, and then, realizing whom he was talking to, simply said to keep him informed, and hung up.
Shirley asked what we should do next. I said we needed to know more about the parking business and what was happening in Los Angeles. She said she knew just the person to call.
The next afternoon, Betty Beeson was sitting in my office. Shirley was there, too -- but I think it was more as a chaperone than anything else.
Betty had been my client years ago during the original parking caper. She was night manager in a garage in a building Shirley ran. Betty had suspected a problem, got involved in a murder, and I helped her out and untangled the mess. She had been beautiful then -- and still was -- and very much a blond.
Along the way, Betty had connected up with DC McGuire, a retired parking expert from New York, and they had teamed up to form a parking company in L.A. Last I had heard, DC had passed away, but Betty was going great guns. If anyone knew about parking in the City of Angels, it would be her.
"Gosh, Paul, it's been so long and you look so great." I smiled and nodded. With Shirley sitting there, I wasn't about to return the compliment. Instead, I filled Betty in on what was going on.
"That terrible LaFlonza woman is out of prison? She should have gotten 'the chair.'"
I hesitated to tell Betty that the chair had gone out of style in California, replaced by "the needle."
Crime was down considerably in California, due primarily to the three strikes law, which forced judges to put repeat criminals in jail. I don't know if it's a 90/10 rule, but it's close: 90% of the crime is done by 10% of the criminals. This case seemed to prove the point: LaFlonza was out and she hadn't missed a beat. She was right back in the same business -- recidivism at its best.
We knew that LaFlonza had personally killed Betty's boss, Gilberto Quintana, and certainly had ordered Art Ball, the president of AB Parking, terminated. However, clever lawyers and the fact that she had testified that Gilberto was fatally stabbed in a lover's quarrel and that there was no proof she had actually ordered the Ball killing, LaFlonza got off with life. That means a much shorter sentence.
The point was moot, anyway. She was out and up to her old tricks. What I needed now was some inside info from Betty.
"Well, I am sort of on the periphery of this issue," she said. "So far we have not had any union problems, and frankly I don't know of any major issues in LA. To be honest, I don't think the unions have anything to do with this. I would go a bit deeper. It might have something to do with taxes.
"L.A. instituted a parking tax a number of years ago," Betty said. "It's a problem for legitimate operators like me, because some of the sleazier ones don't report their total income and then don't pay the tax. That being the case, they can out-bid me every time. I am successful because we run such a clean operation; however, these guys are really into the kickback business. That's what your client may have seen happening on the parking garage roof."
"But how would LaFlonza be involved?"
"Well," Betty said, "if she was again involved with AB and was using the lower expense of not having to pay taxes to get new locations by underbidding her competitors, then she would probably be having to pay off and skim right and left. For all I know, she might be involved in kickbacks to owners or owner's reps.
"Of course, she wouldn't be involved herself. She would have a legitimate-appearing front man to handle day-to-day operations and deal with her customers. The 'owner' of AB Parking is William Francis Smith. He's quite a character. Knows everyone and cuts a wide swath through City Hall. He's on the boards of many of the owners groups and gives a lot of money to their favorite charities. AB is only one of his interests. Supposedly he owns a lot of property himself and has part interest in a hotel/casino in Vegas."
"Then we start with him," I said.
We walked Betty to the office door, and Shirley said we would set up dinner within the next couple of weeks. It would be fun finding out just how well the little girl from Iowa had done over the past 35 years. I told Shirley I would lock up; she went on home.
Junior had left for his apartment. He had said he would be dropping by the hospital that evening to look in on our client.
Shirley and I live just a few blocks from the house I had when we met. It was up Laurel Canyon and a bit toward the bowl on Mulholland. I liked to drive up Nichols Canyon. It was curvy and steep, but had some great views.
When I arrived at the house, I took a moment to look at the vista -- Los Angeles, from the desert to the sea. What a wonderful place. We had moved up here about 20 years ago when the prices weren't quite over the moon. The payments were a struggle in the beginning, but the business was booming, and we really wanted the place.
Shirley's car was in the driveway. As I walked toward the front door, I noticed some water under her car. There was a pool near the right front tire. I took a closer look and saw that the "water" was thick and looked just like brake fluid. The brake line had been cut, and not too long ago.
Shirley met me at the door. Her kiss told me nothing was wrong in there. But she never would have made it down the hill to work the next morning.