Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 2: The Rendezvous
Chapter 6 - We Get a Reaction from William Francis Smith
I left Dad at the office and went to visit Grace in the hospital. I felt guilty that she had been shot while sitting in our office. Dad and I were committed to finding the shooter, but still, it couldn't instill the greatest of confidence in a new client.
Grace was at Cedars-Sinai in a room with a police guard outside. The LAPD posted one of its finest there after someone had shot up the emergency room trying to finish the job on Grace.
I walked in her room and she was sitting up. She looked rather sick, but she smiled and said: "Oh, Paul, thank you so much. They told me you saved my life. I owe you everything."
Wow, that wasn't the greeting I expected, but I wasn't going to argue. I asked how she was feeling and up to talking a bit more. When she nodded in the affirmative, I asked her to continue her story where she had left off.
"Well, as I told you, I saw these two cars on the roof of the parking garage next to my building every day and something would be passed between them. When I went down to take a closer look, they chased me and I ended up here. That's about it."
"What can you tell me about the cars? Were they the same ones each day?"
"One was always the same, a black towncar. The other was different each day. They came about the same time, around 4:30 in the afternoon."
"Was the bundle passed to or from the towncar?"
"I saw them go both ways, sometimes from the Lincoln and sometimes to it. That's about all I know, except that I can never repay you for what you did."
If that wasn't an opening line, I had never heard one. But being a gentleman, I decided to wait to cherchez la femme until she was at least feeling well enough to eat.
"OK, Grace," I said, "I'll leave you to rest. Don't worry about a thing. There is a police guard outside, and oh, by the way, have you ever heard of someone named William Francis Smith?"
"William Francis Smith? No, but you will be coming back to see me, won't you?"
"Sure, I'll call again tomorrow. Now get some rest."
I made it an early night. Tomorrow I would be going to meet the famous owner of AB Parking.
William Francis Smith's office is in Library Tower, downtown. It's the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles does have a downtown, with quite a few real skyscrapers; this one was more than 60 stories tall.
One has to keep in mind that L.A. started late in the skyscraper business, as technology had to catch up with the concerns over earthquakes. Buildings here are built to sway in a quake. They say the taller ones moved quite a few feet each way at the top during the Northridge quake in 1994. I had been told that if L.A. was ever hit by the "big one," most of the damage would be from desks and filing cabinets flying out of the building windows. I'd just as soon be in Texas when that happens.
Smith's offices were on the 17th floor. Most parking companies keep the overhead down with offices in garages or more industrial areas. But not the "owner" of AB Parking.
I handed my card to the receptionist and was shown directly to his office. That seemed strange since I hadn't told them I was coming. That obviously wasn't the case with William Francis Smith.
His inner office was huge and laid out like a wealthy men's club. Lots of dark wood and red leather. It had to be 40 feet between the door and the desk, which was the size of a large refrigerator on its side. He was sitting behind the desk and didn't stand up when I came in.
The sight of Smith nearly bowled me over. I thought I had transported into the "Maltese Falcon" and was meeting with Sydney Greenstreet. William Francis Smith weighed 350 pounds if he weighed an ounce.
"Pardon me for not standing, Mr. Manning. As you can see, I don't stand often. It's getting late in the day; can I offer you a drink -- single malt, perhaps?"
I was taken aback with the choice of drink. My dad is a single malt fanatic. I was more of a vodka man myself. The fact that Smith offered the whisky told me that he may have been expecting Dad and certainly had been prepped for the meeting.
"No thanks. I just want to talk about a shooting that seems to be linked to one of the garages your company operates."
"Well," Smith said, "that would be the location on Olympic. My manager told me you had asked some questions there the other day. I don't see how AB Parking is connected with any shooting."
"Some gorillas tried to rough me up in the garage but failed. And our client was shot after she saw something strange going on at the garage. There does seem to be a connection. Oh, my dad wanted me to ask how Miss LaFlonza is doing these days."
That brought Smith out of his chair. He pushed a button and the door opened. "This interview is over." And I left.
When I got back to the office, Dad, Mom and our chief operative Jim Walsh were closeted in Dad's office. I walked right in.
"We obviously have hit a nerve," Dad was saying. "First, they try to rough up Paulo at the garage, then they cut the brake line on Shirley's car, and now the phone call from Bill Vose at the LAPD."
"What call?" I said.
"Oh, hi, Junior. Bill called and told me the mayor had called the chief of police who called the division commander who called Bill and told him to tell us to back off the Grace Lundquist case. Bill knew we wouldn't but had to deliver the message to protect his tail."
"What time did the call come in?"
"Half an hour after I mentioned LaFlonza's name to William Francis Smith. He must have friends in high places."
I had just gotten those words out of my mouth when the outer office door opened and two men walked in. They identified themselves as members of the state board that licenses private detectives. They told us that there had been a number of complaints about our activities and that until it was straightened out, they would be pulling all our licenses. For all intents and purposes, Paul Manning and Son Investigations was out of business.