Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 1: Death By Parking
Chapter 3 - I Find Betty
It was a good-looking blonde. The scream from behind me told me it was Betty. Damn, sometimes things don't go right.
As I bent closer, I heard a soft moan. It was coming from Betty. Maybe sometimes things do go right. Marlene, embarrassed by her scream, was already reaching for the phone. Help was on the way.
Betty began to stir a bit, and I checked her out as best I could. Except for a goose egg on her head, she seemed OK. I picked her up and laid her on the bed. She couldn't have weighed more than 110. Marlene put a cool towel on her head. Her eyes opened, and I saw the most beautiful blue pools I had ever seen. Oh, Betty, where have you been all my life.
"It's OK, sweetheart, you are going to be all right," I murmured. I'm not any better with recovering blondes than I am with crying ones.
"Who are you?" she said.
"Paul Manning. I dropped by when you didn't keep your appointment at the garage."
"Oh, yes. ... Gilberto -- is he ...?"
"Dead? Yes. He has nothing on a doornail. Do you feel up to talking about it?" Maybe I could get some information before the police arrived and swept her up.
"Sure," she said. "We Midwestern girls have hard heads. About 9:30, I went to the ladies room, and when I returned I found Gilberto. I guess I panicked. I ran out of the office, up the stairs and came here. When I walked in, there was a man going through my things. I surprised him, we struggled, and he hit me on the head. That's it."
It was my second dose of "a little too pat" from my Midwestern hard-headed blonde. First, the story on the phone that got me involved, then this.
"What was he looking for?" I asked.
"I ... I don't know. I couldn't imagine. I don't have anything of value," Betty said.
"Come on, honey, we don't have all day. My buddy Bill Vose, that's Sgt. Bill Vose from the LAPD, is going to be here any minute, and he's not going to buy your story any more than I do. If I'm going to help you, I need to know the truth. Once you are booked -- and you will be booked, at least for Quintana's murder -- it will be more difficult to talk."
"But ... I didn't kill Gilberto," she said. "I found the body."
"Yeah, but what about your fingerprints on the knife?" said I.
"Well, maybe I might have touched the knife when I found him," she said.
"See how easy it is? I didn't know that your prints were on the knife. I just mentioned it and you fell for it. You're in deep, kiddo, now let's hear it, all of it."
"OK. ... I've been working for AB Parking for about six months. I've noticed some substantial irregularities in the way the money is handled. There are parking permits that are 'off the books,' and the daily cash is always quite a bit short. And there are other problems. I've been keeping a record of all the issues. I was going to take it to the owner, Art Ball, but then I didn't know whether he was involved.
"Yesterday, Larry, the cashier, saw me writing in my book. I was pretty sure he was in on the scam, although I wasn't sure to what extent. I was afraid he might tell Gilberto, so I called my friend Shirley and she told me to call you."
"Why didn't you call the police?" I asked.
"Well, frankly, I'm new to this parking business, and I didn't know how much of what I found was just routine and how much theft. Also, as I said, I didn't know whether the owner was involved. I mean, if he was, then he was stealing from himself, and besides, why would the police care about his bookkeeping practices?
"Gilberto got there early. He was furious. He asked to see my book. I told him that I didn't have it at the office, it was at home. He made a phone call, spoke to someone in Spanish, and then started yelling at me. He called me names and slapped me. Then he pulled out this knife and started toward me with it. I backed up toward the door. He tripped over the rubber plant and fell. When I turned him over, the knife was in his chest. I guess I touched it, when I checked to see how he was. Then I ran here."
Damn, I knew those rubber plants had a lot of uses, but I never figured one as a defender of beautiful women. I guess I didn't need one in my office. I had me.
Her story was still a bit fuzzy, but we were getting closer. I would leave it at that for now.
"What happened to your book?" I asked.
"I gave it to Shirley last night for safe keeping. I didn't tell her what it was; I just asked her to hold it for me."
Great, now I had an excuse to drop by and see my old flame. Not that I needed one, but it never hurt. Even with a good attorney, Betty was going to be involved with the police for the next few days. That gave me some time to run this thing to ground.
I could hear the cops rolling up outside.
"Here come the police. Don't say anything to them. I will call my lawyer and have him come down and meet you at the station. He will take it from there. In the meantime, I'll sniff around a bit and see what I can find out about our Mr. Gilberto Quintana and about Mr. Art Ball of AB Parking."
Vose of the LAPD walked in, and I was back in the detective movie. No need to go through the dialogue. You could write it. It ended with "don't leave town." I left him arguing with the stalwart Marlene Crowley and looked for a phone more private than the one in Betty's room.
I decided to start at the top. Maybe I could find out something from AB's owner, Art Ball. I got his address from Shirley, and at the same time set up dinner with her. Might as well get Betty's book and have some fun at the same time. After I called my attorney and made arrangements for him to meet Betty at the station, I headed for Ball's place.
He lived in one of the smaller houses in Bel-Air. Most people think Beverly Hills is the address in L.A., but no, the really rich live in Bel-Air behind walls and gates with their own 24-hour private police force. Ball's house was right on the golf course, just off Stone Canyon Drive. It was about a block -- if they had blocks in Bel-Air -- from the Bel Air Hotel. The hotel's a great place. I had asked Shirley to meet me there for dinner. Good place to let a few movie stars get a look at me.
When I arrived at Ball's house, the front door was standing open. I pulled my gun and went in. The first thing I saw was a fellow in a butler's uniform with his hands raised backing toward me.
In front of him was a big guy with a gun. I yelled, he fired ...