Death by Parking - Chapter 15 - The Ladies Tell the Tale
The Brown Derby is one of the ‘in’ spots in Hollywood. Everyone who is anyone goes there to see or be seen. The four of us didn’t want to be seen, so we were in a booth in the rear with curtains that could be closed to ward off unwanted eyes. Most would think we were an illicit couple wanting some wooing and cooing in private. It was partially true, without the wooing.
I was meeting with the brain trust in this caper. May Jansen, banker’s wife, the money; Maryann Leyman, the “L” in S and L, the developers of the multimillion dollar building on Wilshire Boulevard; and Barbara, the all-knowing ‘assistant’ at S and L who, it seemed to me, was the leader on the ground in this operation.
I was sitting behind a $500 bottle of Laphroig, warming the smokey amber, and waiting. I think it was time to shut up and let the three of them lead the way.
Either they were going to come clean on what was happening, or I was out of there.
I looked over to the spot in the booth next to Maryann and sure enough, our old friend was there. Nursing a glass of what I believed was filled with the same malt as mine. He smiled, nodded his head slightly, and took a sip. Maryann patted his hand.
After our dinner the night before at her house, I realized I wasn’t the only one in this group who had ghosts in their lives.
The other two women seemed to ignore him, and I realized they couldn’t see him. So much the better. At least two of the four of us were somewhat sane. Bogie was selective in his haunting.
Maryann started it off.
“Why don’t I bring you up to speed, Mr. Manning. About six months ago, just before we broke ground on the project, Barbara came to me with some concerns about the goings on at S and L. Ray was up to his eyeballs in trying to get the building moving and was missing a lot of details. Barbara doesn’t miss details.” I glanced at Barbara, and she smiled.
“Things just didn’t seem right. The drawings were a few days late. The hiring practices in HR were not up to S and L’s normal standards. I think people in your profession call it “DFR”, Doesn’t Feel Right. Barbara came to me, I contacted May, and we compared notes.
“May had some misgivings about how the money was flowing through the bank, and also concerns about William Francis Smith and his popping up everywhere there was a problem and somehow fixing it. Then there was the deal with your old Lieutenant, Frank Cosner and “C-Park.” We have no clue how he became involved, but suddenly his company had a contract running the parking at the new building. It just got, as Alice said, curiouser and curiouser.
“We decided to speak to Ray. He’s a busy guy, particularly when we are in the initial stages of construction. He has to be hands on and ensure the steel is going up. It’s most important that we top out on schedule so we can get long term funding. Just a few days late and it can cost tens of thousands in interest.
“We sat him down and told him what was going on. I don’t think it hit home ‘til that policeman was killed on the site. When your friend came by and spoke to Ray and mentioned you, Ray decided that if you called, he would hire you, but turn you over to us to manage.”
Barbara continued the story. “After you called, Ray and I decided to give you the once over. Yes, I do have a ‘second sight’ when it comes to people and I realized when I saw you that you were OK. Just as I realized when I first saw Cosner that he wasn’t. I gave Ray the high sign and we were off. The three of us are still not sure about anyone at S and L, and we weren’t 100 percent sure about you. That’s why we gave you information a bit at a time. If you turned out to be the wrong person, we wouldn’t have given away the farm.”
“You moved quickly,” said May. “Much faster than we thought you would. You contacted Cosner, and Smith. You set up someone to watch your back. You stopped that enforcer from the mob in his tracks. We are only a few days into this, and you are actually ahead of us. You are aces, Mr. Manning. It’s obvious we need to work together, not as a manager and an employee. Frankly, we three are in over our heads, and we need your help to know what to do next.”
Wow! It was the first time that a group of women, or any women, had actually asked my opinion on anything. These three are going with their strength.
I glanced over at Bogie. He was smiling and nodding his head. It was time for me to provide input. That was new to me. I was usually a lone wolf. Let’s try it and see how it works out.
“Well, first thank you for your confidence. I couldn’t have done as much as I have done without your input or support. It seems obvious that someone or a group of someones is trying to slow up the project’s progress and, at the same time, pull May’s bank down, or at least hurt it. There is no question, after my ‘interaction’ with Mob enforcer Dandy Giovanni, that our friends from New Jersey were up to their thick necks in this. Do any of you have any idea why they might be interested in the bank, or the new building?”
The shook their heads, but I felt like there was more there than they were showing. I gave them a skeptical look and said “Look. You have to come clean with me. I’m putting my life on the line and the lives of my friends; I need to know what I’m up against.”
Maryann took it from there. “Look, Paul, I guess we could say that we are frightened. And I for one don’t frighten easily. When May’s husband, George, realized the bank was stressed, he was concerned that he might need outside help. Sure enough, William Francis Smith showed up and offered bridge funding until the building was finished. George put out some feelers and was uncomfortable with the source of the funding. It seemed to come from nowhere. He decided to tell Smith “no”. That was when the problems began.
“In addition to the troubles at the job site and at S and L, May and I have been followed. Jack McKinney, the PI you met at dinner, had his daughter run what you call a ‘loose tail’ on us and quickly recognized some men in dark cars who seemed always to be around. It didn’t take much to put two and two together.”
“It seems like Smith is the center of all this,” I said. “I think another meeting with him is on the agenda. I can make some hints and get him to call off the gunsels who are following you. And perhaps direct them toward me. I think it’s time to begin to work inside at S and L. Barbara, if you could get me an introduction into the HR and design departments, I can take it from there. I think if Smith knows I’m sniffing around, he might make a mistake. Give me a couple of days inside, and to speak to Smith, and then let’s have another meeting. As for now, I’m hungry.”
They laughed and we had a nice dinner, with Bogie listening and drinking. We had to fill his glass three times. I noticed when we left, Barbara and May walked me out, and left Maryann in the booth with the curtains closed. That Bogie.
I’m not crazy. My obsession with Humphrey Bogart was just that, an obsession. I had fun imagining him joining me at lunch and sometimes at dinner, but there was no way I felt that Bogie’s ghost was real.
Then I found out that one of the smartest women I had met also saw him, and for all I knew, had a relationship with him.
She did, after all, have an affair with him in real life, before Bacall and all. Her friends bought into it. I could see him when she could see him. Who knows, maybe, just maybe…
I had a busy couple of days coming up, so I drove home and was slipping between the sheets when the phone rang. A deep voice with an Italian accent said:
“We’ve got your number, Manning. Keep away from S and L and the bank. No more meetings with the three ladies. You have been warned.”
To be continued... Return to the Summary Page - click here