Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 3: The Phantom
Chapter 8 - The Contents Were Worth His Life...
I left my friend LAPD Capt. Bill Vose and the FBI agent in the bar and walked back to my car. The agent would give me no further information about the case except the potential for my demise. This wasn't going to work. I don't give up based just on some bureaucrat telling me to, even if he was the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's LA office.
I called my office and asked Paulo how he was doing on the research into garage construction and repair. He said he had some interesting news. He had spoken to a consultant who knew "everything" about garages and was willing to come by the office that afternoon. He had told Paul he was surprised the 30-year-old garage was in such bad shape that it needed so much work.
Dick Richards was sitting in my office with Paulo when I got back.
"That was quick," I said. Paulo made the introductions.
"Well, I went over to the garage and took a look around," Richards said. "Here's the deal. The kind of problem they are looking for usually happens in 'rust belt' or 'snow belt' areas, or near the beach. This garage is in Southern California. There is no snow, ice or salt, and relatively few swings in temperature. In addition, wet, salty air, like you would find in Miami or Houston, isn't a factor - this deck is five miles from the nearest water.
"Plus, I walked the floors, and there are no visible signs of any problem," Richards said. "Usually you see some cracking or some concrete crumbling. This place is pristine. The owners must have taken good care of it. I even noticed that the membrane looked brand new."
"Membrane?" I asked.
"Yeah, they usually don't just pour the concrete but add a thin chemical coating to protect the deck. This must be replaced every five to 10 years. Most garages don't do this, and that's where you get into trouble. This garage looks to me like that normal maintenance and membrane replacement had been done right on schedule. It seems like they are spending a lot of money checking something that doesn't need to be checked."
"The new owner told us he was rather ambivalent over the garage," I said. "They might keep it, or they might tear it down and put up a mid-rise. There is a lot of new construction going on in the area. It does seem strange they would spend a lot of money on testing."
"Unless," said Paulo, "they were looking for something. I think there's a question we need to ask the new owner."
We thanked Richards for his input, and I left Paulo to his research and drove over to the Westside offices of S and J Investments, where Paulo and I had been before.
Ray Schumer saw me immediately. "Well, Manning, cracked the case yet?"
"We're getting close, but I need a bit more information from you. How did you come to do the tests on the garage?"
"Let's see. After the deal closed, we got a call from Deswal Consulting recommending that we test the garage for structural problems. We thought it was overkill, but they gave us such a good price we could hardly say no."
"Oh, one more question, Ray. Was there any publicity about your purchase of the garage?"
"Well, sure. Our PR folks got a blurb in the trade papers. It was good publicity. We were hoping we might get a 'nibble' on a major firm to lease a new building. If not, we could keep the facility as a garage until we found a tenant."
I called Paulo and had him call Deswal's main office in Cleveland. I told him what questions to ask. By the time I got back to my office, that toothy grin was on his face. He had the poop.
"I spoke to the regional manager for Deswal. He told me the entire firm was stricken by the murders of the two engineers here in California," Paulo said. "I asked him if he had been in contact with the owners and he said no, that their customer wasn't the owner but a company that told them it wanted to purchase the garage and needed some testing before the purchase. That company was 'Palermo Ltd.' "
Paulo made the next call, and I drove over to the Southern California office of Deswal in Burbank. The new manager, Martina Smithson, recently promoted on the murder of her predecessor, was waiting for me. Paulo and I had spoken to her on our first visit.
I went right for it. "OK, let's cut the crap." I just love that detective talk.
"I know that Deswal wasn't hired by the owners but by another outfit with a foreign-sounding name. I know that you misled the current owner and gave him a bargain-basement price because, I assume, your client wanted you to take a quiet look at the garage.
"I also know that you knew going in that the garage really didn't need a survey, probably told your client that, and they said go anyway. I also am pretty sure that just before the work started, you or your recently demised boss were paid a visit by a couple of big guys with bulges under their arms and that a lot of money changed hands.
"You were told to look for something buried in the garage and call them when you found it. How am I doing so far?"
Smithson had turned very white. "Actually, one of them was short."
"Oh, but when your boss and his co-worker found the 'item,' they dug it up and decided to up the ante and were killed for their trouble."
"OK, you're right. Frank and Charlie tried to get more out of Palermo, and they were killed. But they didn't get the box."
"Box, what box?"
"The box they found in the garage. The two goons think I'm a secretary and didn't pay me any mind. But Frank told me the story when he heard that Charlie had been killed. He had hidden the box and was killed before he could tell me where it was."
"What was in it?"
"All Frank told me was that when they opened the box, the papers inside were worth a hell of a lot more to some people than the measly 50 grand they had paid him and Charlie. I guess he was right. It was worth his life."