Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 3: The Phantom
Chapter 4 - A Possible Reason
Paulo grabbed the door handle and tried to open it. It was either jammed or held shut by the van. I jumped out and he followed on my side. When I got to the driver's side, I had to make a split-second decision: Was it time for Paulo to see his first dead body? It was made for me.
"Oh, gross" was all my teenager said, as he looked over my shoulder.
The driver had been shot in the chest and, judging from the blood, not too long ago. I told Paulo to run down and get Bill Vose, who was supervising the LAPD crime scene team in the bushes where the first body was found. He arrived with an escort in white coats about three minutes later.
"Cripes, Manning. Don't we have enough on our plate?"
A quick look and I knew we were to step out of the way and let Bill and his team do their job. It was just as well. If we were going to get any information in this now series of murders, we needed to get to Deswal Consulting, and we needed to get there before the police.
"No problem, Bill. By the way, do you have an ID on this fellow?"
"He's an engineer with Deswal. His name is Frank Straer. The other one's name is Charles Segal. I think Straer was the boss. He had 'senior' on his card."
I saw Paulo taking notes, so I didn't. We left the car there. Bill would let me know when they untangled everything and we could get the Outback returned. From past experience, I knew there was a rental joint a few blocks away. Seems I'm always bending cars the wrong way. We walked over and had a new set of wheels in a few minutes. Next stop, Deswal Consulting.
Their local offices were in Burbank, in an office building near the airport. We decided not to take the freeway, but went on Olympic down to Highland, and then over Cahuenga, around the back lot of Universal Studios and the heart of studioland.
Most people think Hollywood is where the studios are. Except for Paramount and a couple of smaller specialty lots, they are either in Culver City (Sony) or Burbank, where within half a mile are Disney, Universal, Warner Bros., plus the TV studios ABC, NBC and CBS. Disney is investing millions in the area, so high-rises are springing up and being filled with film support teams and production companies. The city was made famous by "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson and his line about the show coming from "Beautiful Downtown Burbank." It may not be a garden spot, but it has changed since Carson moved his desk from Manhattan.
If my life is a movie, this was certainly the place to make it.
We arrived across from the entrance to the airport and parked. I knew the fellow who owned the complex, which had an eight-story office building, a Hilton and a small convention center. The proximity to the airport was good for him. He was able to offer parking for people who were flying out. He used the hotel vans to transport folks back and forth.
He told me his biggest problem with the parking was theft. One day, he was returning from a trip and the van driver tried to sell him a parking ticket issued that day. Seems the idea was that if he threw away his ticket and used the one proffered by the driver, he would save considerable on his parking fee. Boy, did that driver get the wrong customer. I guess the van drivers would take a ticket to get in the lot (instead of using their access cards), and then sell the "new" ticket to folks who had parked there for a week or more. The drivers would make a few bucks, the parkers would save a few bucks, and my friend would be out a few bucks.
The Deswal branch manager, Frank Straer, was not there - as we knew - but his second-in-command, Martina Smithson, was available to see us. I looked at Paulo and he just shook his head. The kid knew the next conversation wasn't going to be pretty.
We sat in Smithson's office and I broke the sad news. I have found that the best thing to do is just tell the facts, quickly and without a lot of detail. It hurts just as much, but it's over quicker.
Smithson was tough. She was about my age and obviously experienced. She was upset but pulled herself together quickly and asked how we were involved. I explained. She looked at Paulo with a suspicious eye but said nothing.
I asked her what she knew about the project, and she began to fill us in.
"Well, Frank was supervising the testing. My background is more in operations. We have been on the job about a week, working from one floor to the next. My understanding was that the job was going well. Frank thought that the garage could be saved, and that only certain areas would have to be repaired. The garage was built in 1962, but Southern California being a temperate climate, there weren't too many issues with salt and ice to create 'spalling' problems with the garage. "
Smithson began to explain about spalling and the issues with concrete pulling away from rusting rebar, but I told her we had already gotten an overview, so we went on to why there were two dead bodies on this job.
"I have no idea," Smithson said. "All I know is that this morning, Frank got a call and ran out of the office. I asked him what was up, and all he said was, 'It's better you don't know until we get this all straightened out.'"
I left my card with her, and Paulo and I headed back to my office.
"You know, Dad, I've been thinking about all this. What do they do in this garage repair that would upset someone so much that they would kill over it? Maybe there's a body buried in one of the floors and they are afraid the repair guys will find it. Someone that disappeared in 1962 when the concrete was wet."
I pulled over to the side of the road and put the car in park. Paulo gave me that innocent 16-year-old look "what?"
"You may have something, Paulo. But killing the contractor wouldn't stop the job. My guess is that something has already been found and Messrs. Segal and Straer found it. And they may have been trying to sell it. We had better find out who else is involved in this project. They're probably in danger, too."