Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 3: The Phantom
Chapter 10 - Endgame
We drove to Beverly Hills, the "poor" section south of Wilshire. There were a few offices and a lot of apartments in the area. The car stopped in front of a building that looked like it was built in the '50s. It was a Colonial, painted white with blue trim. There were impatiens in the flower boxes. A brass plaque next to the door said "Commonwealth Investigations."
Hold it, this didn't sound like the Mob to me.
I was taken out of the car, and we walked into the building and down a long hallway. I could see offices to the left and right. They were filled by smart-looking men and women, all of whom seemed to be busy at computer terminals. Ahead was an open door, and I could see people sitting around a conference table.
The room was like a movie set. Mahogany walls, a thick gray carpet on the floor. A full complement of audio and video equipment was discretely placed in the walls. I noted one of those three-legged speakerphones in the center of the table.
I looked around the table and was beginning to understand.
To my right was the special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office; to my left was my "best friend," Bill Vose of the LAPD. Next to Bill was my contact, Martina Smithson, and across from her was my son, Paul Junior. Next to Paulo was Rick Johnson, the man who originally built that garage where the documents were buried in 1968. Johnson's tennis-playing wife sat next to him.
I realized that with the exception of Paulo, e??veryone in the room knew the contents of the box. I sat down at the head of the table.
FBI agent William Harris started by glaring at me and yelling. "For Pete's sake, Manning, see the mess you have caused. We had this under control and then you stuck your nose in, and now we have to try to contain a nightmare. I'm going to throw every book I can find at you."
At that moment, a voice came from the speakerphone. "You aren't throwing anything, Mr. Harris. Why don't you keep quiet and let's see what we can do about our mutual problem."
The voice was rich, full. It was a voice that was easily recognizable. Its Boston Brahmin accent was unmistakable. I had heard it on the news many times. I had watched his speeches at political conventions. He had lived a full, and difficult, life. And recent headlines told me that he was now attempting to protect his legacy, and that of his very famous family, and he didn't have a lot of time.
"Mr. Manning, I'm sure you know who I am, so there is no reason for an introduction. To clear up one issue first: You are not a prisoner. I had you brought here by members of Commonwealth's staff because I need your help.
"Your assumption is correct. Everyone who knows what is in those documents is in this room. You son is here because he obviously is deeply involved and I couldn't believe you wouldn't tell him our little secret.
"I was young, and as you know, a not very bright man when the incidents documented in those papers happened. I'm not proud of them, and I'm sure that if they were here, the rest of my family wouldn't be either. I wasn't personally involved; I had troubles of my own. However, I know for absolute certain that what they were doing was in the best interest of this country.
"They inherited a snake pit in Washington. The FBI was out of control. Relationships that were, let's just say, "questionable" were the order of the day. The Soviets were rattling nukes; missiles were 90 miles from our shores. It was a very difficult time.
"Yet, they were and are loved by Americans and people around the world.
"I know for a fact that they were beginning to clean up the problems in their administration. The documents were used to blackmail them into going slowly. As you know, they ran out of time in November 1963.
"A certain gentleman held the documents to keep the government at bay for five years. Finally, as he neared his death, he agreed to destroy them. He didn't, and here we are today.
"Frankly, I don't know where to go from here. I have used my influence to gain the assistance of the FBI and through them the LAPD. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, as well as the others present, have graciously said they would agree to anything you and I decide.
"I guess that means the rest is up to you, Mr. Manning."
The last sentence hung there, and everyone looked at me. It was time for some famous Manning wisdom. Damn, I wished I had some.
"What about the two deaths at the garage?" I said.
"There were two parties involved in the search for the documents; the murders were done by the gentlemen you colorfully noted originate from a southern Mediterranean country. They are under arrest at the medical center where you so competently placed them. I understand that their employers have bowed out of the search and will no longer be involved."
"Why don't you just take the documents, burn them and that would be that?" I asked.
He cleared his throat. "There has been enough subterfuge. That's what got us into this mess in the first place. We need good people to come to an honorable solution."
He had done his homework. He knew that, once given, I wouldn't go back on my word.
"How's this?" I said. "I will lock the documents in a safe deposit box. Two keys will be needed to open it. One I will keep; the other you can keep. I can speak only for my son and myself, but we will agree to never mention this matter to anyone outside this room, ever.
"If you want the documents released," I said, "you can let me know. I understand you may have some time constraints, so if you like, you can name another to hold your key."
"Well, Mr. Manning, you do live up to your reputation. It is agreed. We won't be speaking again. I wish you all the best."
The red light on the speakerphone went off. There was silence in the room.
I looked at Paulo and nodded toward the door. He got up and I followed him out. We retrieved my car and I got the documents out of the door. We headed for the main branch of our bank; it was just around the corner on Doheny Drive. I noticed a car following close behind. We parked in front of the bank, and the car drove by and turned left. We didn't see it again.
It took only a few minutes to set up the account. I signed the cards and Paulo signed for the second key. It was understood access would be granted as long as two people and two keys were present.
I then drove to the local FedEx office, placed a key into an envelope along with one of my business cards, and sent it to an address in Washington, D.C. I checked the box that required that only one person could sign for the letter.
Paulo and I hadn't said a word since we came out of the conference room. We drove back to the office. Bill Vose of the LAPD was sitting there with a bottle of 16-year-old Ardbeg. It was open, and at least one shot had been drunk.
Bill said, "Sorry, Paul, the FBI had me between a rock and a hard place."
I looked at my friend and considered all that had happened in the last three hours. I poured a drink for both of us.
"I don't agree with virtually anything that man has done," I said, "but he showed some class today."
We drank silently for a moment.
Then Paulo said to Bill: "The Ardbeg goes a long way to getting you off the hook."
My son is going to make a great detective.