Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 3: The Phantom
Chapter 9 - The Story Begins to Make Sense...Well, Kinda
I didn't think that would work for long, as everyone started talking at once. All the sentences were questions, and they were all directed at me.
"OK, OK," I said. "Let's calm down. Obviously, I have been lied to, and there is one person guilty of those lies. Martina Smithson, newly installed manager at the consulting firm that was doing the work at the garage and former assistant to the man who found the box and paid with his life for doing so.
"I have the relationship with her," I told them. "Let me go over and talk to her. This time, she will tell me the truth."
I got a lecture from the FBI Special Agent in Charge for Los Angeles, something about overstepping my bounds, interfering with an ongoing investigation, and jail time. I was gratified when LAPD Capt. Bill Vose took my side and stepped outside with the Feebie. When Bill returned, he was alone, drenched in sweat, and smiling. I was sure he had called in a few markers and taken a bit of abuse, but I had a free hand ... for now.
I left immediately for the consulting firm's office in Burbank. When I arrived, I saw Smithson walking toward the hotel across from the office building. She was carrying an overnight bag. She stopped in front of the hotel and was waiting beside the sign that said "Airport Shuttle." I walked over and stood beside her.
"You aren't going anywhere. Do you want to have the conversation here, in the coffee shop, in your office, in my office, or down at LAPD headquarters? Make no mistake, those are your only choices."
Tears welled up, and she said the coffee shop would be fine.
"First, Mr. Manning, I'm sorry I lied to you. I just didn't know what to do or who to trust. But now, I guess I have no choice. Frank told me where he put the key to the bus station locker, but he also told me what was in the box. See, our relationship was a bit closer than boss/employee. I spent most of my evenings at his townhouse in the hills above Universal City.
"He told me where he had put the papers that were in the box. After he was killed, I took the papers and put them in the safe at the office. I didn't know what to do with them."
I was preparing to give Smithson another of my patented "Well" looks, when she went on.
"The box contained a number of documents. Frank had explained that this was like a time capsule. One of the capo de capos back east was heavily involved in a lot of illegal deals with the FBI and the Justice Department during the Kennedy administration. The documents put not only the government but the election of JFK in a bad light.
"The capo had kept the documents to protect himself, but he was dying. J. Edgar Hoover knew he had the papers and put pressure on him to destroy them. The mobster made a big deal out of burning them in front of a bunch of government bigwigs. But he burned only copies.
"He wanted to hide them where they couldn't be found for years. He had some 'contacts' with a parking firm in New York City, and they told him about the garage being built in Los Angeles. The capo had his most trusted lieutenant take the box with the documents and put it in the wet concrete and then stand there and watch it while it dried."
"How do you know all this?" I asked Smithson.
"There was a letter with the documents that explained what had happened. The capo de capo was, along with everything else, a history buff. He wanted future generations to know what had been going on in the early 1960s. And that's the story."
I could understand why, when the Mob heard that the garage might be torn down, they had to find that box and were willing to pay to get it. However, when Frank, Smithson's boss, tried to hold them up for more, they killed him but didn't get the box.
I could also understand why a certain family in Boston and the FBI might want to keep the knowledge in those documents off the Internet and out of the press.
"So where are the papers now?" I asked Smithson.
"I have them in my purse."
Oh, please. Nothing was as simple as that. All we had to do was walk out, get in my car, place a call to ... to ... to whom?
The FBI certainly was not on the top of the list. And who knows what kind of deal the LAPD's Vose had cut? Best friends goes only so far. The Mob wasn't on my speed dial, and frankly I wasn't going to be getting any Christmas cards from the two enforcers I had laid out when I got the box from the locker at the bus station.
I could call my friend at the LA Times, but what if this was all a bunch of hooey. The documents could be legit, but they could be another hoax. We would be destroying reputations, families, and altering history. They would have to rename a thousand high schools, and a couple of colleges.
Simplicity just went out the window.
Then I had an idea. I told Smithson to give me the documents and then continue with her travel plans. She would probably be safe in Cabo or wherever she was heading. I told her to call me when she got settled and I would let her know when it was safe to come home.
I walked her back to the shuttle stop and watched as she rode off to Hollywood Burbank airport across the street.
When I got to my car, I pulled off the inner door covering and slipped the documents inside. They would have to really search the car thoroughly to find them. As I drove out of the parking lot, I noticed a Mob-mobile in my rearview mirror. Perfect. That's exactly what I wanted.
I turned into a residential neighborhood and gave them the chance to cut me off. Two gunsels jumped out of their car and ran over to mine. Their movements told me they weren't the two I had met at the bus station (and had left in traction).
One of them jerked me out of my car and took me to theirs. As we drove off, I noticed the other one was following in my car.
I had been kidnapped once before by the boys from Salerno, and they had covered my head so that when they turned me loose, I couldn't tell anyone where I had been.
They didn't take that precaution this time. Not a good sign. I was beginning to think that I hadn't thought this bright idea all the way through.
Be sure to read the final installment of "Death by Parking: The Phantom" in the July issue of Parking Today.