Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 6: Parking Goes to the Movies
Chapter 5 - Is anyone who they say they are?
Private Detective Paul Manning is investigating the death of Laura Jefferson, former wife of film director Dickey Jefferson and the fiancée of mob-connected Mario Palucci. She was killed hours after hiring Manning to help her with a parking business venture. Her father then hired Manning to find her killer. Paul and his girlfriend, Shirley, are in New Orleans, where Jefferson is on location. They found out that Laura had been fighting with her “ex” over rights to the movie he’s shooting, “Voodoo Princess.” They were talking to him when a crazed Palucci grabbed Jefferson and threw him against a nearby wall. “You did it, you bastard. You killed Laura. And you are going to pay.” Palucci pulled out a .38 and pointed it at Dickey Jefferson’s head.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I yelled, and with a complete lack of common sense stepped between Palucci and Jefferson. “Stop this right now, Mario. We don’t know he is the killer, and if you are wrong, or even if you are right, you will be convicted of murder, and they use ‘Old Sparkey” the electric chair here in the south.”
Palucci wilted like a cheap suit. He handed me the gun and sat on the ground. He covered his eyes and started to sob. “I loved her more than life itself.”
Well, I guess not so much, since my comment about “Old Sparkey” seemed to shut him down. Shirley knelt next to him and started cooing, “There, there.” She was good at that.
I didn’t think the best thing right now was for Palucci to be in jail in New Orleans, so I took Jefferson for a proverbial walk on the beach, although here it was a walk along the Mississippi. He was shaking. My guess was that he hadn’t had a lot of experience dealing with .38’s being shoved in his face.
“That bastard is going to jail,” Jefferson said. “I’m calling the cops, I’m calling my lawyer – Charlie, get security over here – I won’t put up with threats.”
I let him talk – he needed to cool down a bit before I convinced him that involving the police right now wasn’t the best idea. After about 10 minutes of walking, we sat on a bench, just above the Café Du Monde. I signaled a waiter to bring us a couple of coffees. Jefferson’s breathing was somewhere near normal.
“Look, I know you are upset, but think it through. You are the No. 1 suspect. If you involve the police, they will begin to stir the pot, and all the gossip about you, Laura, the script, your fighting will come out. When it does, you may end up being extradited back to LA. Where will your movie be then?
“Give me some time to find out what’s going on. If you are innocent, I will find out; if you are not, I’ll find that out too, but I will keep Mario away from you. Deal?”
“Just keep that maniac away from me, Manning,” Jefferson said. “I didn’t kill Laura. She was a good kid, but I’m not into long-term relationships. We were arguing over the ‘points’ she was going to get for the script.
“We had already agreed that I would shoot the film. There’s nothing unusual about that; accounting in this business is very fluid. Killing her made no sense. We were no longer married. She told me she had a new will, and everything was going to Mario. You should be looking at him.
“‘Voodoo Princess’ is going to be big,” Jefferson said, “and we’re all going to make a lot of money. I’ll not press charges, but you keep me up to speed about what’s going on with the investigation, Manning. A lot of witnesses saw what that crackpot did, and I can change my mind anytime.”
Jefferson got up and walked back to the set. The last I saw of him he was climbing into his female lead’s trailer. My guess was he felt she needed more “convincing” to get back to work.
Shirley had her arm around Palucci, and they were walking toward me. I went down to the Café Du Monde and sat at a table where we could talk. Palucci was more under control. They sat down, and he looked very sheepish.
“I really made a mess of this. That nutcase is going to put me in jail, and jail isn’t pretty in New Orleans.”
I told Palucci what had happened, but added that he had to let me do the detecting. I strongly urged him to go back to LA and I would fill him in.
“It’s better, Mario, if you are out of the New Orleans PD’s jurisdiction in case Dickey gets a change of heart. If I can tell him that you are 1,500 miles away, he will feel much more comfortable.”
Palucci nodded his head and said he needed some time alone. I told him to call me from LA and I would update him on the case.
This was getting confusing – I was being paid by Laura’s father, had money from Palucci in escrow with my attorney to keep my relationship with Laura’s dad ethical, and sort of promised both Jefferson and Palucci I would solve the case and keep them posted. Whew!
I told Shirley I needed a drink, and we stopped at the bar at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Shirley wanted a “hurricane,” a sort of rum-based frou-frou drink invented in “The Big Easy.” I settled for a Glenlevit rocks and knocked it back in one go. The second one sat in front of me.
“Now what?” asked Shirley.
“Well, we have a lot more information than we did this morning. I don’t think Mario would have pulled what he did if he had killed Laura. And if he did, Dickey should hire him for the lead in his next movie.
“We know a bit more about the script conflict, and it seems to makes sense. I can call a friend in LA who is connected with the
movie business and confirm what Dickey said. If that’s all true,
then we need to look a bit further for a motive.”
“Paul, you got into this by moving a bit too quickly with
Laura in the first place, not checking her background,” Shirley said.
“What do we know about the rest of the characters in this drama?”
She was right. What did we know about Laura’s father? Or for
that matter, my old buddy, Larry Jorday, who had introduced me to Laura, her father and Palucci. For instance, did Mario have another girlfriend he rolled over to marry Laura? And what about Laura – what if all this had nothing to do with Dickey and movies, but had everything to do with the parking operation she was taking over from Mario?
I would start with William James, Laura’s father. I had a contact in Chicago, Wil Southerland, and maybe he could get me some information about James. I went to the hotel lobby, found the phones, and put in a call. It was the same time zone, so I caught him in the office. I gave him the information, and he said to call him back
about 10 p.m.
Shirley and I walked back to our hotel. It was
hot, and we needed to clean up for dinner. I had made
reservations at Arnaud’s and wanted to look the part. Shirley looked
gorgeous when she came out of the bedroom. Her dress was red satin, and showed just enough on top to be interesting and
was long enough to keep us from being arrested.
God, I loved that woman.
I wore a black blazer over a white shirt, open at the neck. My slacks were tan and I wore the brown loafers, as they say in New Orleans, sans socks. We were hot, hot, hot.
Arnaud’s has a large dining room that opens to the second story. It’s French, but the food is from the Crescent City. We started with shrimp and then oysters-on-the-half-shell. Shirley had crab cakes and I the “Pontchartrain,” a feather-light grilled fillet covered with crab meat. Sigh … We shared a Bananas Foster, flambé at the table. After dinner, we needed a walk.
Shirley wanted another hurricane, so we went to the origin, Pat O’Brien’s. We listened to the dueling pianos, and then finished the evening at the only “real” jazz house in the city, Preservation Hall, where you might sit on the floor, or if you can, on mismatched chairs, and just enjoy.
When we got back to our hotel, it was after 10, and I put in a call to Chicago.
“You have a problem, Paul. There is no ‘William James’ in the state of Nebraska. I did check Laura James, and she comes from Lincoln, but her father died when she was an infant. There is a ‘William Jaymes,’ spelled J-a-y-m-e-s, from Chicago. He has his fingers in many businesses, including limousines and parking.”
I asked Wil to fax a picture of Jaymes to the hotel. I hung up, and as I walked across the lobby, the clerk handed me the fax. William Jaymes, with a “y,” was in fact trying to pass himself off as Laura’s father. And I was working for him to discover her murderer. What next?