Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook Two: The Rendezvous
Chapter 16 - Does It End Just Like Chinatown?
As private eye Paul Manning and his son were investigating the shooting of their client, Grace Lundquist, Paul Senior had become reacquainted with Maria LaFlonza, whom he had put in jail nearly four decades earlier. He realized she was not the killer he thought she was, but had taken the fall for someone who he thought was his friend. Betty Beeson was the niece of a mob boss in New Jersey and was now running its operations in L.A.
Paul Junior had tried and failed to catch the group with the goods, but had been rescued by his dad. He headed off to see their client in the hospital. Meanwhile, Paul Senior and his wife, Shirley, walked into their living room to see that Betty Beeson and her crew -- LaFlonza; William Francis Smith, the crooked entrepreneur and parking operator owner; and Marilyn North, an auditor working for Smith -- had made themselves at home.
Beeson was holding a gun. She ushered everyone into Shirley's SUV and they headed off to Smith's place in the Santa Monica Mountains above Woodland Hills. There was no doubt in anyone's mind of Beeson's intentions. She planned to end the Mannings' involvement in her life forever.
Grace was sitting at a table in her hospital room eating dinner. Even in her hospital gown and robe, she was stunning. No doubt about it. I was smitten and smitten well.
My goal was to remain professional until we had solved the case, and then properly "court" the wonderful Grace Lundquist. I stood silently at the open door and just looked at her.
"Oh, Paul, I wasn't expecting you until later. The doctor told me that if I promise to rest, I could go home tomorrow. They just don't keep you as long in the hospital as they used to."
Her smile melted my heart. It took every bit of self-control to keep from rushing to her side and grabbing her hand. Damn ethics. I hope she understood. She asked me to sit with her. I still hadn't said a word.
"What's happened? Is everything OK?"
I finally found my tongue and told her of my problem in the mountains and how Betty Beeson was now a part of our prime suspect list.
"Do you mean she ran the entire operation? It seems incredible. I guess it's not only who you know but whose your uncle that counts."
I sat for a few more minutes and enjoyed her presence. Grace Lundquist was going to see a lot more of Paul Manning Jr., there was no doubt about that. She told me she was tired, and I helped her back to bed.
"Paul," she said as I turned to leave, "I know you can't say anything now, but you should know that I am falling for you, and falling hard."
This may not be Paris, and I may not be Bogie, and she may not be Bergman, but I knew at that moment that this story was going to have a very different ending than the one so many years ago on that airstrip in Casablanca.
When I got to my car, I realized that I had left my cellphone in Dad's Outback. I didn't like to be too far away from a phone, particularly with all that had been going on. I drove up Nichols Canyon to Mulholland Drive and turned right my parents' house.
Then I recognized Mom's SUV heading toward me. As it passed, I saw it was full of people. Dad was driving. I caught only a glimpse of him, but he didn't seem happy. Something was up. I decided to "follow that car" and check it out.
They stayed on Mulholland and drove due west. Past Laurel Canyon, Benedict Canyon and the "Casiano" gate for Bel Air. We then drove over the 405 and past the Skirball Center. About five minutes later, they stopped at a gate that marked the end of the paved road. I had turned off my lights as soon as we passed the freeway and was hanging back a bit.
A woman got out of the back seat, then unlocked and opened the gate. She got back in to the driver's seat and they drove off. It seemed strange, but Mom's SUV had a bench front seat. All three of them must have been sitting in the front. She didn't stop and close the gate.
I followed. There was no question as to their destination. They were headed for Smith's palatial hideout where I had been held captive only a few hours before.
I had a choice. I could follow or I could call reinforcements. Since I knew where they were going, the latter seemed the best plan. I turned around, went to the gas station near the 405 and called Capt. Bill Vose of the LAPD.
I filled him in and we agreed to meet in the same canyon that had been the staging area earlier in the day when they were preparing to rescue me. Then I headed back to Smith's hideout.
That part of Mulholland Drive was tricky. It was dark as the inside of a cow. The road was rough and narrow. There were 100-foot cliffs alternating on either side of the road. It was slow going both for whoever was driving the SUV and for me, but my sure-footed Jeep was able to make up a lot of distance I had lost calling the LAPD. I caught sight of the SUV's lights about 500 feet ahead.
They seemed to be swerving back and forth and picking up speed. What the hell was she doing, trying to get them all killed?
Then, as if someone had thrown a switch, the SUV's lights disappeared. I hit the brakes and heard a shot, and then the constant blaring of a horn cut through the night.(c) Bricepac, Inc, 2007