Death by Parking
Death by Parking
Book Three: The Phantom
I had a problem. First of all, I didn't like dealing with the fellows with bent noses and names that ended in vowels. My last experience, also involving a parking operation, had been quite enough, thank you very much. These folks play for keeps, and keeps usually means that someone dies. Two already had in this case, and I was certain our digging would bring the mob's focus directly at me.
OK, that's not a problem; I had been a target before. But in those cases, my teenage son wasn't stand- ing beside me. I had let Paulo help out with this case because I wanted him to get hooked on the private investigator business so that when the time was right, he could come into the business with me. I also thought this case was benign. After all, what could happen in a parking garage?
Paulo had dug up most of the clues we had so far and was beam- ing from ear to ear. He was doing good investigative work and knew it. And so did I. But this case had just become very dangerous. I knew how to handle these "guys from Jersey." But I couldn't have my son at risk.
"Let's go back to the office and fig- ure out our next move," I told Paulo. Maybe I could come up with some- thing during the ride back. We were both very quiet. I could imagine that Paulo was thinking the same thing I was and coming up with a list of rea- sons he should stay on the case. We got to the office and I called my wife, office manager, best friend and Paulo's mother, Shirley, into the office. It wasn't crowded. They were all the same person. I figured I could use some back- up.
I was about to begin my speech, which I was handily making up on the spot, when Paulo held up his hand. The next five minutes made me the proudest parent on the face of the Earth.
"I've been thinking," he started.
"These mob guys can be pretty danger- ous. I know you can handle them, but I don't have a lot of experience. I would hate for you to get hurt because I was there and you were protecting me instead of yourself.
"Why don't we divide the case into two parts? First, there is the field work; you can do that. And then there's the research and follow up; I can do that. I'll work here with Mom, and you and I can discuss the case every day and update each other on what's going on. I can think about the problem, and you can go out and get the clues. We can make a great team."
There were tears in my eyes when Paulo finished. I couldn't have said it better. Shirley just smiled, got up and left the room. She knew her son a lot better than I knew mine. But I was learning fast.
After we did some male stuff (the teenage equivalent of "how 'bout them Dodgers") to give me a chance to wipe my eyes, I suggested we make a list of where we were and then see if an obvious next step would appear.
The current owners of the garage were having a consulting firm test it for problems (it was this testing that we thought were ghosts and got us into the case). Two employees of the firm had been murdered at the job site. We found that when the garage was being built, the mob was at least peripherally involved. The builder-owner was very nervous when we asked about the garage, and it was his wife who had put us on the track to the original property owners - Palermo Ltd., the mob.
It seemed that the consulting firm was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Except for one thing: Paulo's idea that something had been put into the garage when the concrete was wet, something its owners didn't want found. As the consultant's engineers were dragging chains across the floor, they would have been able to hear where the rebar in the concrete was rust- ing. They would also be able to tell where something might be that shouldn't be there. Jimmy Hoffa? I don't think so. But what?
We decided we needed to know more about the testing. I was reluctant to go back to the consultants, Segal and Straer. They were in mourning because two of their own, including the local branch manager, had been killed. Paulo suggested that per- haps he could do some research on the phone, while I followed up with Bill Vose, my closest friend and a captain at the LAPD. I phoned and asked Bill for a drink at a watering hole called The Badge. It was near Parker Center, LAPD headquarters, and was frequented by cops of all ranks. On the way, I stopped off at Trader Joe's and picked up a bottle of 20-year-old Glenfiddich. It was the payoff for Bill's getting some information Paulo had requested earlier in this case.
Bill was a few minutes late. I didn't mind. I liked the bar. It was a man's bar although many female cops put a foot on the brass rail. Also, The Badge had a great selection of Scotch whisky. I ordered a shot of Isle of Jura, a nice little single-malt, and was adding just the right amount of water (a dollop) when Bill walked in.
He was accompanied by a man whose clothes, demeanor and walk said one thing: FBI.
Bill introduced me to the Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles FBI Office, William Harris. They ordered their drinks, and we took a booth.
Harris got right to the point. "We would like you and your firm to stop working the garage murders case. Tell your client whatever you want, but back off. This is much bigger than you or even the LAPD."
I could see that Bill didn't like the last sentence, but he did- n't say a word.
"Why?" I said in wonderful detective repartee.
"Because if you continue, you could get killed."
I drank the rest of my whisky and said nothing.
to be continued..
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