Death by Parking

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Death by Parking

Book 1: Death By Parking
Chapter 1 - The Story

 A ringing in the distance stirred me from a dark sleep. It took a moment before I could determine whether it was the phone or the door. It was the phone. It was still ringing after I checked the time -- 7 a.m. -- and walked to the kitchen to silence it. 

"Manning," I muttered. I don't do very well before my second cup of coffee. 

"Paul Manning, the detective?" replied a silky soft voice. It was just too nice a voice for 7 a.m. But then, who am I to argue with a voice like that at anytime. 

"Yeah," I answered. It wasn't difficult affecting my surly "who the hell are you" attitude after the amount of alcohol I had consumed the night before. 

"This is Betty Beeson. I work for AB Parking in Hollywood. I'm in a lot of trouble and need your help." Her voice began to quiver and I knew any minute she would start to sob. I can't stand a dame that cries, particularly one that I haven't even met. I decided to try to be a bit nicer. That usually isn't difficult for me with beautiful women, but in this case, who knew? 

"Calm down, take a deep breath and tell me why you called," I purred. My bobcat had become a kitten. 

It spilled out of her like champagne from a tipped crystal flute. "I'm the night manager at our garage on Hollywood and Vine. I come off shift at 8. I began to count the money, and I am very short. I didn't steal it, Mr. Manning, really I didn't. But when my boss finds out, I will be fired for sure. I need this job. I called my friend Shirley, and she said to call you." 

Shirley? The only Shirley I knew was the building manager at the Argyle on Vine. She and I had a thing going for a few months last year. We parted on good terms, and she does continue to drop over from time to time when she is lonely. 

Then it came together -- a wonder in my condition. The Argyle was at Hollywood and Vine; AB ran the parking concession. It was a new building and had, in addition to the usual parking lot next door, a garage under the building for tenants, visitors and VIPs. There was an upscale hotel on the upper floors, the Cinegrill on the main floor, and offices in the rest. I wasn't aware the building kept its parking open all night, but with all that activity, it made sense. 

"Can you come right down?" she continued. "I need to have someone here when my boss comes in. He has a big temper. He usually doesn't get here until about 10. I'm going to wait for him because of the shortage. I would feel much better if you were here." 

Hell, business was slow. I had nothing better to do. Who knows? Maybe I could help her out and then play Anthony to her Cleopatra. "I will be there by 9:30." She said thanks and goodbye. 

I put an extra spoonful of coffee in the coffeepot basket that morning. I like it strong. As it perked and that wonderful smell began to fill the house, I opened the windows so it could combine with the fresh morning air. 

I was renting (well, really house-sitting) a bungalow just off Mulholland Drive, up the hill from Sunset. It was small but fit my needs. I took the coffee out on my porch and had my first smoke of the day. 

I could see the city fanning out below. It was July and going to be a hot one. A light layer of smog covered the L.A. Basin. It was like a painting that had been hanging behind a bar for a couple of decades -- familiar, yellowed with nicotine, but an old friend, nevertheless. 

That 7 a.m. phone call -- something didn't ring quite true. The story was too pat. Why didn't she call the cops? Was there something more to this caper? I thought I might go in to the office a bit early and check up on AB Parking and our Miss Beeson. 

My office is only two blocks away from the Argyle, next to the Egyptian Theatre. I parked in the lot next door and climbed the stairs. The sign on the frosted glass said "Paul Manning, Investigations." The sign was the fanciest part of the office. There are just two rooms. One is a reception area -- a couple of chairs, a small table with an ashtray -- where I can make prospective clients wait and get nervous. The other is my office. I have a desk, file cabinet, two chairs and a closet. There's a sink in one corner. Someday I'm going to get a rubber plant. 

I picked my mail up off the floor and went into my office and sat at my desk and lit a smoke. In the mail was a copy of Life magazine. It reminded me of an article I read a few months ago that AB Parking was one of the many parking companies that had sprung up after the war. Seems the founder, Art Ball, had come back from Germany with a few bucks and noticed that everyone in L.A. had a car and no place to park. He bought a couple of vacant lots and started charging a dime a day to park. Now, a dozen years later, the price was up to a quarter, and he lived in a big house in the canyon. His signs with the word "Parking" and a stylized arrow were all over town. Anyplace there was a vacant lot, he either bought or leased, and parked cars there. Now he had expanded his business to running parking for other companies, like the Argyle Building. 

I gave Shirley a call. After some cooing and idle chat, I asked her about Betty. 

"She's a nice girl, just in from Iowa," reported Shirley. "Like everyone except me, she wants to be a star but needed to eat. I knew AB had the opening downstairs and recommended her. It worked out well as she used to work helping her father as an accountant. She lives in a room off Orange Grove." 

Actually, Shirley could be a star. She's a looker. Just hadn't sat on the right stool at Schwab's yet. 

It was 9:20, so I walked the two blocks to the Argyle. The parking entrance was on Vine. I walked down the ramp and asked the kid in the booth to point out the parking office. As I neared the office, I heard a scream ... 


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