Death By Parking
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Chapter 2: I get a Job
Even as I dialed the phone, I had mixed emotions. Just what was I getting into? Was it worth opening a dark moment in the past? They do say “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Was this who I had become? Had that one moment in another country gotten to me to the point that I was taking a job to teach an old adversary a lesson? And that adversary didn’t even know that he was an adversary.
As Bogie faded into the cracked leather seat, I knew that I would do the right thing, and I would know what it was it when I saw it.
Maybe that was the point. I would be able to investigate the relationship between the parking company Cosner owned and the construction company and delve into Cosner’s life without him realizing my true goal. But what was my true goal? I couldn’t have him arrested for something that may or may not have happened in wartime. What if I found…
“S and J Properties, how may I help you?”
I grabbed the card Bill Vose left on my desk and read the name on it.
“This is Paul Manning. I’m calling for Ray Stevens.”
“Just a moment, I’ll see if he is available.”
“This is Stevens, Manning. Bill Vose told me you might be calling. I think this is a discussion better had in person. Can you come to my office at 4 this afternoon?”
“See you at 4.” He disconnected.
I opened the filing cabinet and took out a blank contract. I filled in S and J as the contractee, and added my daily rate, plus expenses. It also included an upfront retainer and, if necessary, there was a short space to delineate what I would be doing to earn my fee. I slipped it in an envelope and then into my inside pocket.
It was nearing lunch time so I locked up the office and walked down the street to Musso and Franks Grill.
Musso and Frank’s is the place to go when you are in a mood. It doesn’t make much difference what mood, because the restaurant was the center of history in Hollywood. Whatever mood you were in, it had something to fit the bill. I was in a strange mood. I didn’t know in my heart exactly what I was seeking in my search for Cosner. Was it revenge? He had never done anything to me. Was it simply justice? The man was a monster, at least, I thought so. But what if I was wrong? Who knew what happened in the back room of that bar in Korea when the woman’s screaming stopped so abruptly?
The ghosts of the stars that had made M and F their hangout for so many decades hung back until you ordered and then sensed just who might be welcome join you. Was it a time for joy like when Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford convinced the chef to duplicate Fettuccini Alfredo, or a darker time such as when Raymond Chandler wrote a few chapters of “The Big Sleep” over a martini in the back room?
I was thinking about Sam Spade when Bogart’s ghost sat down at the table. He said nothing, but just looked at me. The fog about what I was doing began to clear. I munched a club sandwich and drank a coke. Bogie didn’t.
I got to thinking that in most of the roles Bogart played, particularly the hard-bitten detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. In the end there was a certain morality that permeated everything those characters did. You knew they were doing the right thing, even when they were roughing up a bad guy or lying to the cops. As Bogie faded into the cracked leather seat, I knew that I would do the right thing, and I would know what it was it when I saw it.
I had a couple of hours before meeting Stevens, so I drove up to my bungalow in the hills above Hollywood. It was only two bedrooms, but had a deck that overlooked the city. It fit my needs.
I decided to dress up for Stevens. If he was building a 50-story office building he had to have a few bucks and there was no need to get off on the wrong foot. I know Bogie didn’t care about things like that, but I felt that a tad of professionalism, particularly on the first meeting, couldn’t hurt. I put on my best suit and headed out to my meeting.
I rode the elevator to the 32nd floor. The elevator lobby was filled with plants, mostly ferns, but a few palms. I walked through the glass doors marked “S and L Properties” and entered a room whose walls were covered by photographs of buildings, most on Wilshire Boulevard and most I recognized. Yes, Stevens was rolling in dough. I walked over to the blond sitting behind the desk.
“Paul Manning to see Ray Stevens.”
“Yes, Mr. Manning, Mr. Stevens is expecting you. He is running a few minutes late. Please have a seat.”
The furniture was glass and chrome. There were windows and I could see the length of Wilshire Boulevard. If Los Angeles had a main street, it was Wilshire. Part of it was known as the “Miracle Mile.” That was where all the top end stores like Bullocks and the May Company were located. S and L was right in the middle of it.
I looked up and the receptionist was standing in front of me. “Mr. Stevens will see you now.” She walked off and obviously expected me to follow. I did.
She knocked on a set of double doors and then opened one. I walked into a corner office the size of my house. It had all the amenities, a wet bar, a seating area with loveseat and sofa, a fireplace, a conference table, and a relatively small desk. Stevens came out from behind the desk, shook my hand, and motioned toward the seating area. I took a seat on the sofa, he sat on the love seat, on the end nearest to me. He glanced at the receptionist who was standing in the doorway. She asked if I wanted anything to drink. I declined. She looked at Stevens, nodded her head, and left. Up to then he had said nothing.
“I trust her instincts. Barbara is more than a receptionist, she’s my eyes and ears. She has the best people skills. She can tell if there is a con going on with a glance. If she had simply showed you in and closed the door, you would have been out of here in five minutes. I have no secretary, as such. She is my assistant, my confidante. When you are in this business, you need someone you can trust absolutely.”
Now it was my turn to say nothing. Two can play at this game.
“It may seem strange that parking operators are involved in a development such as mine at a very early stage. Often, they either own or control the land on which the building will be built. Their input is important in computing the early revenue streams. Most of the money in the first few years comes from the parking spaces. Architects don’t focus on parking and a good design needs experience. Operators bring that. I have one that I normally bring on board. But this project was different.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “This time C-Park came highly recommended and at a weak, or maybe a busy moment, you agreed. When they came to discuss the parking, your assistant closed the door. But it was too late. Someone in your organization had already agreed. You were trapped. After the incident on the job site, and your discussion with Bill Vose, you haven’t been sleeping well. You decided to look into it, and here I am.”
“Barbara was right about you, Manning. You are the real deal. Here’s what I want you to do.”
“Hold it right there. You build buildings, I detect. Set me up as some kind of inspector or something so I can have free rein to poke around the operation and talk to people. After a few days, I’ll come back and we can discuss just what direction the investigation should take. Sound reasonable?”
Stevens thought about it for a few minutes and then nodded his head. “OK, Manning, have it your way. Barbara will give you the credentials you need and be your go between if you need anything else. If you have an agreement, leave it with her.” He stood up. I stood up. He shook my hand.
I walked out and down the hall. When I passed Barbara’s desk, she was just hanging up the phone. She took the agreement I handed her and told me to check back with her tomorrow after 10. She would have worked out my new position by then.
I pushed the button for the elevator and it opened almost immediately. I found myself face to face with my former lieutenant from Korea.
To be continued…