Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook Five: The Shakedown
Prologue - All This From Good Mexican Food And Tequila?
What is that damn ringing sound? Oh, the alarm - 6 a.m. already?
I grab at the clock, and it falls off the nightstand and keeps ringing. When I stand up to look for it, I step on it and bruise my foot. It's still ringing.
My good Lord. Those little black windup things with the luminous dials really can take abuse. Ding .. ding .... ding ..... ding ............... ding. Finally, it runs down.
It must have been that Mexican food I had last night at El Cholo on Western. It was gooooood, but I mixed it with nearly a fifth of tequila and ...
What an amazing dream. I usually don't remember dreams all that well. Just the last couple of minutes. But this morning, it's playing back like a news reel at the Bijou.
The coffee is brewing, and the Hills Bros. is smelling great. That new automatic coffee maker Shirley gave me actually works. I wasn't sure that just by setting the hands on the clock face I could automatically brew my coffee in the morning. But, ah, the wonders of Modern Science.
I take a cup out on the veranda and look out over the LA Basin. The thin layer of smog gives it a light-brown veneer, not pretty, but friendly. Like the nicotine color on a picture that's been hanging in a local bar for 20 years.
I think back on the dream. Parking? How can I have anything to do with parking?
There's the phone call, the murders, Shirley tossing water in my lap in the hospital. That I remember. Then there was the movie star with that funny voice, sort of a combination of a soft fountain and a she-wolf's howl. And the shootout in Bel Air to protect the money laundry that a crooked parking lot owner was running and trying, without success, to keep one step ahead of the mob. At least he served a good brand of whisky.
I married Shirley - OK, I guess that's not too far-fetched. We really mean a lot to each other, but I can't bring myself yet to say that four-letter word that begins with "L." A son, Paul Junior? I call him Paulo. He hates the nickname, but he loves me. The detective business grows. More parking. Parking?
That fateful day when Grace Lundquist was shot in my office after seeing a meeting on the top floor of a parking garage. Paulo and I raced around LA looking for a connection between parking lot owners and a strange group of politicians, "fixers." And, yes, that race at 3 a.m. across Mulholland Drive with Paulo in hot pursuit. Betty, the woman I had saved in that first caper, was driving Shirley and me to what really looked like an early grave. She lost control, a shot rang out.
But I'm confused now. The timeline is all wrong - in the next view, Paulo is only about 14 years old and has dragged me along on a harebrained hunt for ghosts in a parking (yes, still parking!) structure. There were flashing lights and clanking chains. Yeah, right.
But then as we sat in the bushes across the street (I was trying to show him some of the hard work in stakeouts), there it was -- chains, flashing lights and all. We got closer and found a van and a body. What was that all about? We had a murder and no client.
The garage owner hired us (not a lot of confidence in my old employers, the LAPD) and that 14-year-old kid actually solved three murders and got us a very strange phone call from a very sick senior senator from a state in New England that no one can ever spell. He was a senator? His brother has just been elected president. I really had that one all wrong.
Then things got really strange. My dream morphed into a celebration of Paulo and Grace's engagement at the Hollywood Bowl and finding a dead body in the trunk of my car. Kidnappers, the mob, the FBI. Foggy airport scenes from Casablanca. a woman whom I knew was dead. Private jet airplanes (must have been invented by the same guy who made the coffee maker). Ransoms, parking operators, a twin sister.
Thank heavens the alarm went off when it did.
I sat on the veranda thinking. Could I be seeing the future? Married, successful detective agency, a son. And what was all that about every woman in the dream being a blonde, except that actress who somehow was sleeping with Howard Hughes? Well, I am partial to blondes. I guess in that regard I am a gentleman.
They say that people have premonitions. I wondered ...
It was time to get to work. I dressed and drove to my office. It was in a building on Hollywood Boulevard across from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. On the office door's frosted glass, it read "Paul Manning, Investigations."
There were two rooms, an outer office with a desk and a couple of chairs. The desk was for the secretary I would have when I had enough business to justify one, and the chairs were where I made my clients wait a few minutes to ratchet up the stress just a tad before interviewing them.
My office had a nice view of the theater across the street. I had a desk, a couple of chairs, a filing cabinet, and a corner I was saving for a rubber plant. There was a sink in the other corner. A bottle was in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. I didn't need a lot of furniture. Detecting is done on the street, not in an office.
I was "between assignments." I had just finished up a divorce case. The woman was playing around and her husband wanted proof. I took my camera and followed her for two days, got a few pictures of her going into a motel on Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood. She was with what is known in the trade as a "man not her husband." I hate that kind of work, but I have to eat. When this agency grows, I won't take such window-peeping cases any more.
There was a knock on the outer office door.
"Come in," I said. I have a penchant for picking just the right words to use in the right situation.
And she did. Beautiful, legs that went all the way to Montana, high cheekbones, blue eyes, and hair the color of hay, just before it's cut. Her makeup was smeared. She had been crying. Oh no, I can't handle women who cry.
"Mr. Manning? I'm Linda Hallenbeck. I have a problem." She sat down and broke into tears.
Ever the suave one, I smiled, opened a drawer and took out a box of Kleenex. I handed her the box and said, "Take your time and tell me about it."
At that moment, a man threw open my office door and said, "There you are. And I'm guessing this guy is the one you have been cheating on me with."
He then took out the biggest gun I have ever seen and pointed it at my heart.
To be continued ...
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