Death by Parking

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Death by Parking

Book 1: Death By Parking
Chapter 4 - I get taken for a ride

 Fortunately, this gunsel was not a very good shot, or perhaps my manly detective-style yell frightened him so much that he lost it, because he missed both the butler and me, the bullet adding to the design of a large painting behind me. It was the size of half a wall, but frankly, it couldn't have cost very much as it had no trees or horses in it. 

I dove for cover; the butler fainted. Our shooter did the same (dove for cover, that is). We exchanged a couple of shots, and I guess he knew he was out-gunned, so he took off through an open set of French doors. I ran to the door and took a carefully aimed shot. I winged him in the leg, but that didn't even slow him down. He just ran down the fairway of the Bel Air Country Club and disappeared behind a sand trap. 

Hearing a moan behind me, I turned to see the butler starting to come around. I helped him to a chair and asked him what happened. Jeeves -- I kid you not, that was his name -- began his story. 

"I returned from shopping, and after I helped the cook put away the groceries, I came in here to the study and found this guy going through Mr. Ball's desk. He saw me and pulled out his gun. That's when you came in. By the way, who are you anyway?" 

"I'm Paul Manning, private detective," I said. "I work for one of Mr. Ball's employees and came by to talk to him. I guess my timing was good. Is Mr. Ball at home?" 

"I don't think so," said Jeeves. "He told me he was going out, and his car wasn't in the driveway where he usually leaves it." 

At that moment, a man came in like he owned the place. Turned out he did. 

"What's going on here?" he said. "Who are you? Why is the door open?" 

Jeeves introduced us and then told Ball the story. 

"I guess I owe you a debt of thanks, Manning," Ball said. He didn't seem too surprised by the fact that someone was going through his house. I asked him about it. 

"Well, I'd rather not discuss it with you until I find out who you are and why you are here. Today has been a pretty busy day in my company. One of my managers is dead and another is under arrest, but I have no idea what's going on." 

I brought him up to speed as best I could. I left out the bit about Betty's notebook, which I was going to get a look at when I met Betty's and my mutual friend Shirley at the nearby Bel Air Hotel for dinner. I wanted to see what was in it before I discussed its existence with anyone else. 

"Well, it seems that you are just one step behind whoever is behind this. Why don't you have a drink and let me make a couple of calls. If you check out, we'll have a little chat." 

Jeeves took me into the next room, which was a combination pool room, library and bar. He joined me in a drink. Neither of us thought his boss would mind. It was just to settle his nerves, of course. 

I have been a single-malt whisky man myself ever since a friend introduced me to the rich, smoky taste of an 18-year-old Macallan a number of years back. I have a collection of single malts at home and have really grown to like Laphroaig. It's a perverse little whisky distilled on the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. It takes on the character of the land of its creators -- tough, rough, peaty, with just a hint of the sea. (Some people think it tastes like iodine, but obviously their palates haven't been adjusted to this wonderful dark amber liquid.) 

The familiar green bottle with the white label was on the shelf, and I helped myself to three fingers and a splash of spring water. (The water cuts the alcohol so it doesn't burn and ruin the flavor. It also releases the flavor buds in the whisky. A Scotsman taught me this trick. People who drink their whisky "straight" are simply wrong.) 

I was savoring my first sip when Ball walked in, poured himself a wee dram of 12-year-old Talisker and said, "Well, you are who you say you are. I called a friend at City Hall, and he referred me to a police detective named Vose. He said you were a pain in the butt, but that you were honest and usually did what you said you were going to do. That's good enough for me." 

Good old Bill. Couldn't give a reference without mentioning the "pain in the butt" part. Oh well, he obviously impressed Ball. 

"Vose also said that he was on his way over, and if you were still here, you should wait. I mentioned the problem of the intruder, and Vose said he would get the report when he arrived." 

Ball then went on to tell me that he had had a number of recent inquiries into the possibility of selling his parking business. He wasn't interested, but the potential buyers were insistent. He was becoming a bit concerned, because through his contacts, he had determined that the buyers had connections in Las Vegas and New Jersey. I kinda figured what that meant. 

Ball asked if I would work for him and look into the matter in more detail. I told him I already had a client, but maybe we could share information as the case developed. He thought that was a great idea. 

It was getting late. I knew I was supposed to wait for Vose, but Shirley would be in the bar at the Bel Air Hotel in a few minutes. I wanted to see that notebook, and I wanted to see Shirley. 

Ball agreed to tell Vose where I was and that if he needed me to come back to call over to the hotel. It was only five minutes away. 

As I drove over to the hotel, I reviewed the day: 

Less than 11 hours ago, I got a phone call from Betty. She was scared, and I agreed to meet her. I found a dead body, which turned out to be her immediate supervisor, on the floor of her office in the parking garage at the Argyle Building in Hollywood. When I went to Betty's apartment, I found her out cold and the place ransacked. When she came to, she told me she thought she had found suspicious accounting activity at the garage and had a notebook detailing the problems. Betty had given the notebook to our mutual friend Shirley for safekeeping. Her boss -- Gilberto Quintana -- was harassing her about the notebook, came at her with a knife, tripped on a rubber plant, and fell on the thing. (Well, it was her story and she was sticking to it.) I then went to Ball's house and found a gorilla looking through his papers. After a shootout, he escaped and Ball told me that I'm now involved with some shady characters who drive black cars and take people on one-way rides. 

Ah, what 11 hours can do. 

At the Bel Air Hotel, I opted to park my own car, although the valets are probably better drivers than I am. As I walked across the parking lot, I saw Shirley standing at the valet station. She was chatting with an officer from my former employers: the private police force for the stars, the Bel Air Patrol. 

I had about 100 yards to go to catch up with her when two guys came out of the darkness and said: "You Paul Manning?" 

"Who wants to know?" I responded. I was good at this gangster repartee. 

"Da boss wants to see you, NOW!" They took my gun, shoved me in the back seat of a big black car, and we drove off ... 



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