Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 2: The Rendezvous
Chapter 8 - Is Paul Jr., Falling in Love?
I watched as LaFlonza walked down the pathway. She was absolutely stunning. I didn't care if she was as old as my mom. And I rather resented the crack about my being too young for her. Dad had had her arrested for murder, but she got out early on good behavior. Based on her last few comments, I thought we could now drop the "good" part.
Dad had his mouth open, but North said the first words. "You got anything to drink around here?" It was my place, so I brought out a bottle of Laphroaig and three glasses. I prefer vodka, but this was a whisky kind of moment. North smiled. "Your kid has good taste, Manning."
"OK," Dad said, after downing two fingers of the malt, "what do you suggest, Marilyn?"
"Like I said, I'm auditing a Smith location. We know he's dirty, but it's tough to get enough to put him away. Usually operators caught like this simply pay the amount of the loss to the owner and that's it. Maybe they even keep the location. But there might be another angle.
"The location we are auditing is in the Valley, way out on Ventura Boulevard. I could bring Paul Junior with me and introduce him as my assistant. That would give him cover to sniff around, and maybe he could turn up something more than just lost revenue. At least it would give us something to do next."
"Won't someone recognize me?" I asked. "I have met everyone in the case so far."
"I don't think so," she said. "This development isn't owned by the same group that owned the place where your client was working. Smith never goes there. He likes to keep close watch on his buddies downtown. It appears they don't switch around managers at AB Parking. Once you have a spot, you keep it. So you won't run into your friend from Olympic Boulevard. What do you think, Paul?"
"It's risky," Dad said, "but Paulo can handle himself. I say let's do it."
I had a lump in my throat. My dad didn't hand out compliments too frequently. I love him, but he can be gruff about his son. The last time I heard my dad say something positive about me was through a third party. I thought about it and realized that coming from someone else it meant much more than from him direct. Parents have a tendency to over-hype their kids. You never know when they really mean it. I know my dad means it. And it felt good.
North gave me the Valley address and we agreed I would meet here there at 7 the next morning. She wanted to get started as soon as the garage opened.
I decided to drop by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to see how our client was doing. Grace Lundquist had come to us with a problem, and before she could say her second sentence, she was hit by a bullet that had come through our office window. She was going to be fine, the doctors had said, but I had promised to visit her.
When I walked through her open hospital room door, she was sitting up in bed, reading.
"Oh, Paul, thanks so much for coming to see me. I was beginning to think you weren't going to make it." She was beautiful, no doubt about it.
"You are looking great, Grace. How are you feeling?"
"I feel better each day. I know it sounds corny, but having you here really helps. Oh, I did remember one thing that I forgot to tell you when you dropped by yesterday. One of the bags that the goons in those cars were exchanging on the roof of the garage, it was different. I remembered it because the doctor who came in to see me this morning was carrying one. It was a doctor's bag."
I didn't say a word. My mind was racing. It could be just a coincidence, but Dad had taught me never to believe in coincidences. I was meeting Marilyn North in the morning at the West Valley Medical Center.
Grace and I chatted like old friends. We were definitely growing closer. I had seen her at least half a dozen times now and had never touched her, except of course for the pressure I put on her chest to stop the bleeding when she had been shot.
She reached out and took my hand. I pulled away slightly.
"Grace, you're a client. I must remain professional." I felt like a 15-year-old on his first date.
"Oh, I know, Paul, it's just that you say the right things and are so nice. I would like to get to know you better."
I was on the ragged edge of ethical suicide. I tried this: "Grace, I can't get personally involved with you, at least until the case is completely over. It would cloud my judgment and wouldn't be right."
I stood up and started for the door. As I reached it, she said: "I knew you would say that. You are right, of course. But the case will be over soon, and I will be out of here."
I looked back, caught a tear in the corner of her eye, and walked out the door. I was Bogie, she was Bergman, but this was L.A., not Paris. The pain in my chest didn't let up until I got to my car.
The drive over the hill the next morning to meet Marilyn North was simply the best Los Angeles has to offer. It was crisp and I took PCH north to Topanga Canyon Road and then over the hill to the west valley. Since I was going against the traffic, the drive was easy. Everyone complains about the traffic in Los Angeles, but if you know your way around you can skip the freeways and have fun, too. My jeep took the canyon roads like a sports car and the views of the valley from the top of the Santa Monica Mountains were stunning.
Marilyn was in the parking booth when I arrived. She introduced me to the cashier as her assistant and began to explain what we would be doing that day. The manager walked up about then and suggested we go to his office for a cup of coffee. When we entered the office I was stopped cold by an object on his desk, hidden in plain sight, so to speak.
It was black, leather, and looked exactly like the bag Marcus Welby used in his house calls. I began to wonder if Marilyn North and I hadn't stumbled onto the center of William Francis Smith's operation.