Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 3: The Phantom
Chapter 1 - Basis in Fact
"Dad, I can't sleep."
Huh - I checked the clock; it was 4:15 in the morning. What was Paulo doing standing next to my bed? Particularly since he was 16 years old.
Shirley was in Kansas, visiting her folks, and we were batching it. Sixteen-year-olds simply don't come in the bedroom and profess to fright. Something was going on.
"What's the problem?"
"I can't sleep. I keep thinking about what I heard at school today. It's about a haunted parking garage. I know it can't be true, but since most rumors have some basis in fact, it's keeping me awake."
"Basis in fact." It's three hours before breakfast and my son is talking about "basis in fact."
I'm Paul Manning, and I'm a private investigator. I got my start nearly 20 years ago by solving a murder that took place in a parking garage in Hollywood. I also married Paulo's (that's my son, Paul Manning Jr.) mother and expanded my agency. We were pretty successful now, having moved out of my "film noir" office on Hollywood Boulevard to a nice single story on Sunset Strip. We hired a few operatives and, with Shirley running the office, built a successful and lucrative business.
Paulo is a bright kid. He's doing well in school, has a lot of friends, and I'm hoping he will follow me in the business. But "basis in fact" at 4 a.m.? I'd better get to the bottom of this.
"OK, OK, but I need some coffee."
"I already put it on." The kid was resourceful, too.
We lived in a large "California Bungalow" off Mulholland Drive above the Strip. When Shirley and I got married, I had a small place up the road, but I knew a family was coming soon and we would need a larger place. This one was perfect. We had an incredible view of the LA Basin. On clear mornings, you could see from the Hollywood sign and downtown past Century City and Santa Monica to the Pacific. In the evenings, Paulo and I would sit on the deck and watch the planes line up to land at LAX. Once he counted more than 30 planes in the final approach pattern to the country's third-busiest airport.
As I looked out over the basin at 4 a.m., I was greeted by a wall of darkness. Not a city light to be seen. Power failure? Nope ... "June Gloom." The marine layer was in, and it was thick. Our house was surrounded by clouds, and the basin was covered with a layer that would, it was hoped, burn off by noon. In the meantime, famous LA with its palm trees and pretty girls in shorts and tank-tops was cold, wet and gloomy. A perfect setting for talking about "basis in fact."
Paulo brought my coffee and began his story.
"It's that idiot Billy Bronson. He is always talking about something that you can't believe. The other day he claimed to have seen a UFO. It was obvious to everyone that it was a police chopper running down a gang banger. You can see those spotlights miles away. But this time was different."
I went into detective mode. Good PI's listen more than they talk. It's hard to get to the bottom of something with your mouth open. I knew that Paulo would get to the point soon. And he did.
"Yesterday, Billy was jabbering on about something or other when he got really quiet. He took me into the boy's bathroom and checked to be sure the place was empty - you know, like the mob guys do in the movies, looking under the stall doors and all.
"He told me that the old parking garage on Olympic just east of the campus was haunted. He said he had heard sounds and seen lights flashing late at night. Dad, he was really scared.
"I asked him when this had happened, and Billy said he'd seen the lights and heard the sounds a couple of times when he had walked home late after music practice. And night before last, a 'ghost' had come out and told him to 'get lost.' He ran all the way home.
"I know Billy pretty well, Dad, and I can tell when he's telling the truth. This was the truth. I've been thinking about it and maybe something is going on in that garage. I think we should investigate."
There were a couple of words he used that began to worry me - "we" and "investigate." But I knew Paulo was stubborn and maybe this would be a good object lesson for him and begin to bring him more closely into my world. Sure, why not. We could go down to the structure, stake it out, have some great father and son quality time, and he would see that the whole thing was just a figment of a teenager's imagination.
"So what do you propose we do?" I asked.
"Well, we could call Uncle Bill and he could stake out the place and catch the bad guys in the act."
"Uncle Bill" was Bill Vose, my closest friend, Paulo's uncle by friendship, and a captain in the LAPD. I could just see me making that call. Bill would still be laughing half an hour after he hung up on me.
"Before we get that far, maybe we should check it out ourselves. That way we can give more information to Bill and he can be better prepared." (And when it turned out to be nothing, we wouldn't embarrass ourselves.)
"So you think we should stake it out ourselves?"
"Great idea. What time does Billy's music class end?"
The deal was struck, and at 10 p.m., father and son were sitting in my Subaru Outback across the street from a relatively disreputable looking parking structure.
The place had to have been built 30 years ago. It was small, dark, and from what I could tell, closed for the day. It looked like it provided parking for a couple of 1960s-style office buildings that were located in the area around Olympic and Bundy. The owner had planted bushes and shrubs to try to spruce up the place, but it hadn't worked.
This was a changing neighborhood. My guess was that the garage wasn't long for this world. Buildings were going up everywhere nearby. It was becoming a "media" district with MTV, ESPN, Fox News, and Skywalker Sound all having offices within a couple of blocks. There were at least four buildings of substantial size going up. Construction cranes were on every corner. But at 10 p.m. all was quiet.
The garage in question was three stories. There was one entrance and exit with the requisite white booth and gates controlling it. I had learned a bit about the parking business during our first adventure and knew that a lot of money probably passed through that booth every day. How much actually got into the owner's bank account was another story.
It was 10:15, and Paulo was beginning to fidget. I had brought some cocoa. Stakeouts were nothing if not boring. Teenage boys bore quickly. I was about to suggest that we call it a night when Paulo pointed to the garage. There was a glow that was increasing in brightness coming from the rear of the second floor. We got out of the car and walked toward the garage.
As we got to the sidewalk in front of the entrance, we heard a sound that reminded me of machinery working. There was no sound of motors but a clanking like chains being regularly dropped on the floor. Like someone had leg irons on and was moving slowly across the second deck.
Then Paulo grabbed my arm and pointed up. There was, I kid you not, an apparition slowly walking along I guess you could call it a "parapet." It was bent over and seemed to be dragging a foot behind. It reminded me of someone you would name "Igor." Paulo dove behind one bush, I took another.
Sherlock Holmes would have said at that moment: "The game's afoot."