Death by Parking
Death by ParkingBook 6: Parking Goes to the Movies
Chapter 9 - Actress Another Missing Piece of Deadly Mysterious Puzzle
Private Detective Paul Manning is investigating the death of Laura Jefferson, former wife of film director Dickey Jefferson and fiancée of mob-connected Mario Palucci. She was killed hours after hiring Manning to help her with a parking business venture. Her father, William James, then hired Manning to find her killer. Palucci also hired Manning, but his reason for finding the murderer was revenge.
Manning and his girlfriend, Shirley, are in New Orleans, where Jefferson is on location. Manning heard from an operative in Chicago that William Jaymes, with a “y,” was in fact trying to pass himself off as Laura’s father. And Manning was working for him to discover her murderer. What next?
His client Palucci was found murdered on the movie set at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. As Paul and Shirley returned to their hotel, he looked over her shoulder, and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. There was a voodoo doll halfway down to the door to their suite. It was in a hangman’s noose and dressed exactly like Manning.
This time, Manning had two murders, strange happenings in New Orleans, and a high-roller from Chicago.
There was Dickey Jefferson and his movie, but Manning didn’t think that was a motivator in this case. There was one thread that tied virtually everyone, and the mob, together – parking.
It turned out that “Voodoo Princess” had only two more days to shoot in New Orleans. Dickey Jefferson got permission from the local cops to return to LA, and Shirley and I could see no reason – except the food, fun and all the movie stuff – to stay in New Orleans, so we packed up and took the next flight to LA.
I told Shirley about the parking connection, and she suggested I talk to an old friend who had helped me before when a case was involved with parking, DC McGuire.
DC was a retired auditor for a major parking company Back East. He came out of retirement after I introduced him to a woman who became his partner and was able to run the his parking company’s day-to-day operations. DC still had time to spend a few hours each day on the golf course.
We met in the bar at the Bel-Air Country Club.
“Quite a step up from the last time we met at Rancho Park,” I said. “The parking business must be doing pretty well.”
“You know, you can make a lot of money in this business if you run it properly,” DC said. “You don’t have to cheat or use it as a laundry. We have a dozen locations now and are doing well at all of them.
“So, talk to me, Paul. What do you need?”
I told DC about the murders, the connection with the movie business, and the “Voodoo Princess.” I noted that the common theme in all this was the parking business.
Before she died, Laura Jefferson had taken over a few parking operations from Palucci and had asked me to help him clean them up. There was some mob money lurking in the background. I just wanted his input.
“We don’t see as much activity from our boys from New Jersey here in LA as we did in New York,” DC said. “They seem to have backed off since you rolled up their operation a couple of years ago. I’ll ask around. ...
“Have you considered something else that has a tangential connection to the movie business, too? Limousines. Many of the parking operations also run valet and limousine services in Hollywood, and if there was any connection, it might just be there.”
DC gave me a couple of people to talk to, and we promised to stay in touch.
Let’s see: parking, limos and valet. That would pretty much surround the private transportation business in LA. I knew a guy, but ... . I called Shirley; she would remember his name.
“What was the name of that fellow who started the valet company that ran all the operations on Restaurant Row? He had a VIP operation, and all his drivers wore red tuxedo jackets.”
“Walter Orange. Everyone calls him Wally. He has an office off Jefferson Boulevard near Culver City. Here’s his address.”
I went to see Wally. He was happy to talk.
“Look, you hear rumors, people make comments, but nothing is definite. I have had no contact with any funny business,” Wally said. “But we run a pretty straight operation here. All our drivers are licensed, trained and fully insured.
“The biggest problem we have is fly-by-night operations that start up on a street corner, let their drivers work for tips, hire illegals, and pay top dollar to their clients.”
“What do you mean,” I said, “‘pay their clients?’ I thought they paid you?”
“When you provide valet service to a restaurant, you pay them for the privilege,” Wally explained. “Then you get to keep all the money you collect. If you run a legitimate business, you pay the fee, like rent. Then you collect so much per car, pay your drivers, insurance and other costs, and make a profit. The drivers also get to keep their tips. Everyone profits.
“Let’s say the restaurant wants $1,000. We audit the place, determine how many cars are parked each night, compute how much we will make and how much it costs us to stay in business, and then if the numbers are right, agree to the deal.
“These fly-by-night guys come along with no insurance, no employees, no nothing, and agree to pay $3,000 a month. We can’t compete.”
“But don’t they have to have a license and like that?”
“Sure, but they get around it, and often the city looks the other way. It’s frustrating. We survive by giving top-notch service and building a reputation. High-end restaurants love us, but a lot of smaller guys look only at the money.”
I thanked Wally and drove over to my office in Hollywood. It was a good place to think. The view was palm trees and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I pulled out the bottom drawer of my desk and put my feet up.
It was becoming a little more clear, but there was still a lot of fog.
There were the garages that were going to be run by Laura that came from Palucci and his definite connection to our Jersey friends. They probably reverted back when both were killed. Then there’s the money that was backing Dickey Jefferson and his new movie. Where did that come from?
Plus, there was William Jaymes, with a “y,” and the Chicago influence, and there were valet and limo operations involved. What if …
I didn’t have a chance to finish the thought. The phone rang, and it was Jefferson.
“Manning, I have to see you right away. Leticia missed her ‘call’ this morning. We can’t find her anywhere. I called her brother, that cop in New Orleans, and he said he would be on the next plane out but that I should call you. Get over here and help me!”
I really wasn’t good at taking those kinds of orders, but I knew that if I turned him down, Shirley would issue a few orders I wouldn’t like, so I said I would be right over. The studio was on Beverly just east of La Brea. It took only five minutes to get there. My name was at the gate.
Jefferson’s office was in a bungalow surrounded by flowers, trees and babbling brooks. He was definitely an “A-lister.” He had made millions for the studio, and they repaid in kind. I walked in and heard him yelling from an office in the back.
“I don’t care. Turn the shooting schedule on its head and shoot around her. We can’t hold up production; it will cost a fortune.” I heard a phone slam into the cradle. “Her” was Leticia Jones, Dickey’s leading lady in “Voodoo Princess.”
“Manning, do something,” he said. “My backers hold a very tight purse string and extract interest in a different coin than the banks. If we go over budget, it will mean my neck. Leticia is central to the rest of the shots we have to make. Without her, there is no movie, and I’m dead.”
So, “Fast Dickey” had taken money from some shady characters who don’t just send nasty letters when you are past due; they break legs. But it wouldn’t be in their interest to stop the movie; they wanted it to succeed so they’d get their money.
The lawyers ask “Cui bono?” “Who benefits” from the non-completion of the movie? Certainly not Dickey’s backers. And not the actors nor anyone on the production crew. I normally would have talked to Palucci, but unless we can reach him through a séance, that was
I sat on a sofa and watched Jefferson do his “director thing.” He actually was doing it pretty well. From what I could see, he was able to keep to the production schedule for at least two more days. Then all hell was going to break loose.
For lack of anything better to do, I called my answering service and picked up my messages. One was from William Jaymes, the ersatz father of the late Laura Jefferson. The other was from the sister of NOPD Homicide Lt. Detective Henri Lebec – and missing movie star – Leticia Jones.
Her call had come in about an hour ago. The answering service operator simply told me that Leticia had said “call,” and hadn’t seem stressed or anything.
The most reasonable thing to do was to call the missing actress and find out what was going on. So I did.