Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 3: The Phantom
Chapter 3 - No Ghosts
Timing is everything. I was about to blow up at Schumer when we learned there was a serious problem at his garage: a dead body. OK, fair enough. But what the hell did the apparition my son and I had seen with our own eyes at the garage have to do with a parking consulting firm?
I was able to regain my composure and ask the question. "Well, then, Mr. Schumer, perhaps you might fill us in." I glanced over at Paulo and could see that my use of "us" had hit its mark. He was beaming.
"Here's the deal, Schumer started. "Buildings are made up of concrete and steel. First, the rebar is set in place and the concrete is poured around it. When that dries, you have a rock-solid structure that should stand for a lifetime, if not a lot more.
"Parking garages age faster than your usual concrete structure," he said. "In a traditional building, the outer walls seal off the insides from the weather, from severe temperature changes. And, frankly, people don't usually bring in items from the outside that would affect the structural integrity of such a building.
"A garage is different. It's wide open. Rain, wind, cold, and heat are always affecting the concrete floors. See, the water gets into tiny cracks, and over the years expansion and contraction let the water get to the rebar. Then it rusts, and as it does, it expands and breaks off chunks of the concrete. If this goes on too long, the entire structure could be at risk. The trouble is you can't tell when the rebar is starting to rust. It does it inside the concrete.
"Now, there are some pretty high-tech - and expensive - ways to stop this rusting," Schumer said. "You can spend a fortune and put an electrical charge on the steel. But that might or might not work. The best thing to do is to take real good care of your garage. Keep it clean, sweep out any salt that might have been tracked in, and be sure no water freezes on the inside.
"We just bought that garage on Le Grand and, frankly, its previous owners weren't too good about following up on maintenance. So we brought in a firm to find out whether we needed to do any repair or, if the problem was bad enough, to replace the garage.
"That's what you and your boy saw last night," he said. "They were testing the floors, and they can do it only at night when the garage is empty. They drag chains across the floor and can tell by the sound whether the rebar is rusting. It's rather a fine art and takes a person with a lot of experience. Deswal Consulting is one of the best," Schumer said.
"But why would anyone want to kill someone who worked for a firm testing a garage?" I asked. "Is there a lot riding on the results?" "It doesn't make a lot of sense to me," he said. "The result of the testing was going to be expensive to us, either way. We would either spend millions repairing this garage or spend millions building a new one. In the scheme of things, it didn't make a lot of difference.
"However, they were working for me," Schumer said. "Can you do what you do and find out what's going on? We need to get all the facts and put this thing to bed as quickly as possible."
"Mr. Schumer, we would be happy to investigate. But understand that the police will be all over this. We will be working around the edges; they will control the case."
"Come on, Manning, I know how you PIs work," Schumer said. "You have contacts everywhere. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that fellow over there from the police is one of your best friends. Keep me posted."
I told him we would send a contract and we left. Paulo and I walked around the corner and, sure enough, there were enough police units at the parking garage to give the impression it was a patrolmen's convention, or a donut shop.
Schumer was prescient. The lead detective was Bill Vose, my old partner at the LAPD. He smiled and gave Paulo a hug.
"When am I getting my whisky?" he asked me. Bill had run a truck license plate for Paulo - and said that was worth a $70 bottle of Glenfiddich.
"Give me a break, Bill. I found out I owed it only yesterday," I said, glaring at Paulo, who was still smiling ear to ear. Bill laughed and began to fill us in.
"We got the call about an hour and a half ago," he said. "A gardener found the body behind some bushes right in front of the garage. It looks as if he was shot and then pushed off an upper floor of the garage. We found some blood up on the fourth floor, almost straight up from here. Coroner says the poor fellow has been dead for at least a day and a half. That would be the night before last."
I looked at Paulo and his face said, "This is up to you, Dad, I'm over my head," so I decided to set an example. "Paulo and I were here at the garage night before last checking out some strange noises. We saw a garage construction crew at work but nothing else."
"I might have known you would be involved," Bill said. "No blonde in this one, Paul. Are you keeping it G-rated because of Paulo here?"
Bill's reference to the fact that many of my clients had been female and the majority blonde sent Paulo into spasms of teenage laughter. I just smiled and told Bill that we had been hired by the owners to look into the murder. Bill said that he would be happy to have us on board. I was sure that was true - at least until he got his whisky.
We left Bill, got in our car in the garage, and sat for a few minutes to discuss our next step. "What's next?" I asked Paulo.
"Well, we could just let Uncle Bill do the forensic stuff; I'm sure he'll fill us in later. And we could start our investigation by talking to the consulting company, this fellow's co-workers."
The kid was right on the money. He was going to be an asset to the firm when he was old enough to get his PI's license.
As I drove through the garage and entered the second floor, a white van - with the word "Deswal" and a stylized logo - that was going about 5 miles an hour smashed into the side of our car.
That would have been bad enough, but when I looked over at the driver's side of the van, I found the spot behind the wheel empty. First, ghosts dragging chains across the floor, then a phantom driver. This was getting to be a tad too much.