Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 2: The Rendezvous
Chapter 17 - And So It Ends...
They say your life flashes in front of your eyes just before you die. I've always wondered how they know. Think about it.
I'm Paul Manning, and I've been a PI in L.A. for more than four decades. I've seen the city change and grow. I've lived through fires, floods, earthquakes, riots and even the odd Academy Award ceremony. This is a great city, a vibrant city, a true city of the world. It's also a great city for cruising.
Take a drive down Sunset to the sea, or up PCH (that's Pacific Coast Highway) to Malibu. Drive down La Cienega or up Melrose. Spend the afternoon at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica or have a leisurely lunch at the Cheesecake Factory in the Marina. You can shop in Beverly Hills, or at the Grove. You can eat at the Farmers Market and, of course take your kids to nearby Disneyland, Knotts or Universal.
You can immerse yourself in any culture you choose, whether it's Chinese, Jewish, Vietnamese, Mexican or Russian. We have Persians (well, that's what they call themselves here), Ethiopians, Japanese, Koreans and, yes, even a Canadian or two, particularly in the winter. This is the most international city on earth. And it's wonderful.
Unless, you happen to be riding down Mulholland Drive at 9 p.m. with a gun in your neck, absolutely certain that, at the end of the drive, you, along with your wife, are gong to be shot. How I got to this point in the road turns the tale
My son, Paul -- he's my partner in the detecting business -- and I were interviewing a new client, Grace Lundquist, when she was shot. Paulo saved her life and is quickly becoming romantically involved with the beautiful blonde.
Her shooting led us to the parking business, and a crooked operator who actually is in cahoots with some rather shady characters from New Jersey.
It started nearly 40 years ago when I put a mob boss in jail. She was a B-grade actress named Maria LaFlonza and went to prison for murder. She was released on good behavior and was back in the business. Her current partner is a creep named William Francis Smith.
Paulo and I tripped over them while we were looking for the gunsel who broke the window of my office in the process of shooting Grace. Smith was a wheeler-dealer in politics downtown and had caused our PI licenses to be revoked. We were operating without a net.
While rescuing Paulo, who had been kidnapped by these two cretins, I got the surprise of my life. My original client in that first case years ago, Betty Beeson, turned out to be the niece of a mob boss from back east, and she was actually running the entire L.A. operation. I had been had, and had good.
Betty was holding the gun that was pressed into my neck. The other passengers were my wife, Shirley; LaFlonza; Smith and Marilyn North, an auditor who seemed to be on the up-and-up but ...
Shirley and I had been waylaid at our home in the Hollywood Hills and were being taken "for a ride." Betty meant business. Her words before we got into the car: "I think it's time to end this chapter in our lives once and for all." And I had no doubt what that meant.
We were heading to Smith's palatial hideout in the Santa Monica Mountains off Mulholland Drive above Woodland Hills. I was driving, with Betty seated behind me holding a gun. Shirley was next to me in the front seat. LaFlonza and Smith were in second row of seats next to Betty; Smith had a gun on North, who was in the jump-seat in the back. The jury was out as to whose side she was on. Based on the situation, I expected she would probably side with whomever didn't shoot her.
Betty was getting more and more wired as we neared Smith's mansion. She talks tough, but I think she usually has her lieutenants carry out the dirty work. I doubted if she had ever pulled the trigger herself.
"Come on, Paul, hit the gas," Betty said "Let's get this over with. Maria, when we get there, you and William take them out back and finish the job. I'll call my assistants, and they can come up and clean up afterwards."
I was looking for a way out but didn't see one.
"Paul, you have been meddling in my life since the early '60s," Betty said. "I can't have you continuing to upset my business. My uncle expects me to take action, and I know how he expects problems like you to be solved."
The pressure of what was about to happen was beginning to take effect. Betty wasn't used to this. LaFLonza and Smith did all this type of work. Betty had been the contact with the East Coast. I thought that if I could somehow use that to my advantage ...
"Three murders, and you get off scot-free," I told her. "And, of course, if something goes wrong, you just let Maria take the fall like she did for you the last time. Must be nice, Maria, having to live with that. You are second rate as an actress and now you play second fiddle to Betty."
"Shut up, Paul," Betty screamed. "Just drive."
We had reached the gate that led to the dirt portion of Mulholland Drive and Smith's hideout. Betty got out and unlocked and opened the gate. Then she opened the driver's-side door and told me to move over. She would drive.
"Keep a gun on Paul, William. If he so much as twitches, shoot him, and Shirley, too."
Betty was getting increasingly out of control. We were taking the dirt road far too fast. I buckled my seat belt and made sure Shirley had, too.
As we neared Smith's mansion, Maria said in a low voice: "You really wouldn't let me take another fall, would you, Betty? I don't want to go back to prison."
"Shut up," Betty said. "You were well-compensated for your little vacation. We'll look out for you."
A minute later, I was deafened by a shot that sounded as if it had come from a gun six inches from my ear. The SUV started to careen toward a drop-off straight ahead.
The last thing I remembered was another shot. Fade to black.
When I came to, I was deafened by the SUV's horn. Betty was draped across the driver's airbag and pressing against the horn. We had gone over a low cliff and rammed against a dirt berm. Everyone was out cold - Betty was the coldest. There was a bullet wound in her temple. Nothing to be done there. The second "shot" turned out to be the airbags.
I checked Shirley and she was breathing. As I turned to check out the gang in the back, the passenger door jerked open. It was Paulo.
"Dad, Mom, you OK?"
"We're fine - check the back seats and get the guns from Smith and LaFlonza."
I pulled Betty off the horn. The silence was wonderful.
Shirley began to stir and told me she was OK. We left Betty where she was, and we climbed out. Paul had gotten the passengers in the back under control. At that moment, the cavalry arrived. Bill Vose and the LAPD SWAT unit had been called by Paulo and were all over the scene.
But what had happened? Who shot Betty Beeson?
Did Smith see an opportunity to take over the operation? Had LaFlonza just had too much?. Did North change sides and grab a gun? But why pick that moment? It was a desperate move. We all could have been killed. Paulo wasn't too careful when he took the guns from the dazed duo in the back, and we didn't know which gun belonged to whom.
I caught LaFlonza's eye as they put her in the back of a black and white. There was determination, but also a slight glint. She fixed on me for just a moment, but it was enough.
The next afternoon, we were sitting on Paulo's front deck. The Venice (California, that is) canals were beautiful. The sun was perfect. Just another day in paradise.
Grace was holding Paulo's hand, and it looked as if she wasn't going to let go. Bill and I each had a glass of 18-year-old Laphroaig, and Shirley was nursing her chardonnay.
"They have clammed up," Bill said. "No one is saying anything. There are lawyers everywhere. I'm not certain we will ever sort out who shot Betty."
"I don't think that's important, "I said. "They will all go down for the count."
There was a buzzing on the table. It was Paulo's cell. He answered. After listening a few minutes, he smiled and shot me a look. Manning and Son Investigations was back in business. I wonder if it would be a blonde.
Paul Manning and his crew will return next summer in the next episode of Death by Parking: "The Phantom."