A Blonde, a Kidnapping, ‘Spooks’ and Only One Shot Fired ...
We had been dating, and that case threw us closer together, and we discovered we both were focused on the same thing. We had knowledge in different aspects of the business, and we could work together well.
Paul “detects,” and I do everything else at Manning and Manning. I’m a skilled accountant, manager and gatekeeper, and I can represent the company to a T, when necessary.
Having worked side-by-side first with Paul and now with our ex-Marine son, Paulo, I not only have been able to get their typically male psyches bent toward the business of detecting (you have to collect the money, guys), but I also have learned a few things about their side of the company, got my PI license, and was better with a Glock than either my husband or son.
As it turned out, that was a good thing, too.
Paul and Paulo had flown to San Francisco to hunt down a “skip” who owed our client a lot of money. I expected them to be gone the better part of the week. We had no active cases in the LA office, so I had some time to relax a bit and think about how to approach the “r” word with Paul.
He was not the type to give things up easily, but that wonky heart and extra 20 pounds didn’t help when he had to chase someone down. Paulo certainly had taken a lot of the pressure off, but …
My musings came to an abrupt halt when the door to our Sunset
Strip office flew open and a blonde woman rushed in. (Yes, they were always blondes.)
“I need to talk to Manning now.” She was out of breath.
I got up, took her into my office, and said, “I’m Shirley Manning. How can I help you?”
“No, I need to talk to the detective.”
“I’m a private investigator, and the rest of the staff is on assignment out of town. How can I help you?”
As is usually the case, the client was ruffled. A woman, and one of a certain age (we had been in business 35 years), was telling her that her last resort was nearly 60, a little thicker than I might like, and looking at her with curious eyes.
“I know you were expecting Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, or ‘Spenser for Hire,’ but you got me,” I said. “Now, tell me your problem.”
“I’m Mary Simpson. It’s my husband, Ralph. He’s missing. The police tell me that they can’t help for 48 hours. He was supposed to be home on a flight from San Francisco this morning. I met the flight. He wasn’t on it. I don’t know what to do.”
“When did he leave?”
“Two days ago, it was a quick trip, up and back. I dropped him off at Burbank, then nothing. He usually calls from his hotel, but I haven’t heard a thing from him. I didn’t worry, because Ralph said he was going to be with customers. But now ... .”
I got the flight information from Simpson, and asked her to wait until I checked a couple of things. I called a friend at the LAPD and asked her to run both husband and wife for any “priors.”
I then called a computer geek our firm had on retainer. Within seconds, I knew that Ralph Simpson hadn’t flown from Burbank, or anywhere else, two days ago.
And Ida at the LAPD told me there was no “paper” on either one of the Simpsons. I went back to Mary and gave her the news.
She was wringing her handkerchief and almost stuttering. “What can we do?”
“We can’t do anything; I can do a lot. First, sign this agreement and leave a $2,000 retainer. Then fill out this form, which will give me all contact and work information on both Ralph and you. Come with me.”
I took her to a quiet room we had for just this purpose – and for interrogations – and left her to fill out the paperwork. I told her to press a button on the table when she was finished.
I went back to my desk and considered the situation. What was it? Was Ralph Simpson a straying husband? Had he been abducted? Did he simply want a couple of days free of his wife? Or was it something more ominous?
When Mary pushed the button, I went back in, collected the papers and the check – plus a picture of her beloved – and told her to go home and stay by the phone. At least it would give her something to do.
I had my assistant call all the hospitals, the morgue and, yes, the detention centers, to find out if Ralph was anywhere where we could sweep him up quickly. No dice.
He owned a small electronics firm in the Valley. I grabbed my Glock (Paul had drilled into me to never go on a case without it), left the office and jumped in the Cayenne. Yes, we had done well and felt we deserved a few creature comforts.
I was met in the lobby of Ralph Simpson’s company by his assistant. I flashed my PI credentials and saw the man’s eyes get larger.
“Why do you think anything is wrong?”
“Where is Ralph Simpson?
“In San Francisco, meeting customers?”
“Nope, want to guess again?”
This assistant shrugged and walked back to an inner office. I followed.
We entered an office with Simpson’s name and title (“President”) on the door. We went in. I surveyed the room. Nice but not over the top. A big desk, a couple of chairs, a table surrounded by more chairs, and a large leather sofa.
On the sofa was ... Ralph Simpson. He was breathing heavily, very bloody about the face, but other than that seemed in tiptop shape.
“Someone had better start explaining,” I said.
“Mr. Simpson showed up here this morning,” the assistant said, “before anyone else got here. I found him on the sofa. I wanted to call the police, but Mr. Simpson said no. It was too dangerous.”
“Stop it, Larry!” Simpson said. “You’ve said too much already. Who is this woman, anyway?
I introduced myself and asked him if he needed a doctor. I told him we had a doctor that made house calls and could keep his mouth shut.
Simpson thought about it for a minute, tried to get up, fell back on the sofa and said, “Call the doctor.” I did. He was there in 20 minutes, cleaned up my client’s husband, pronounced him beat up but otherwise healthy. A couple of pain killers and Simpson was ready to talk.
His company was working on a hush-hush government contract, and he had been going to San Francisco to review it with some government agency or other. When he got to the Burbank airport, Simpson said, a couple of guys had grabbed him, shoved him into the back of a car and taken him to a house in the Hills.
They beat him up before they looked in his briefcase and found the plans for the gizmo he had been working on. They took him “for a ride” and threw him out of the car up on Mulholland Drive. Simpson said he had flagged down a passing taxi – a miracle in LA – and had come here to his office.
Simpson said he was afraid that “they” might come back for him or go after his family. That’s why he had been lying low.
“Why would they come back?”
“My briefcase held only half the information they need. Without the Internet security codes that only I have, they are out of luck.’
“Police?” I said
“No, my entire future rests on getting that information back,” Simpson said. “I’m dealing with some very secretive government ‘spooks,’ and they don’t want anyone else involved. Can you help me?”
“Well, Mr. Simpson, I’m on a case now: I was to find you and return you to your wife. I’m pretty much finished with that, so I guess I can take on another client. You’re on.”
“I’ll pay you anything.”
“Standard rates, plus expenses.”
Just then, there was a commotion in the outer office. The door crashed open, and two men who looked like they had stepped out of Central Casting as FBI agents ran in.
“There you are, Simpson. We wondered what had happened when you didn’t show in San Francisco. We want those plans and codes, and we want them now.”
Something didn’t sound
It’s good sometimes being a woman. You are often ignored. I walked up behind the one who wasn’t talking, put my foot on his butt and pushed. He went flying.
While he was trying to get back to earth, I pulled the Glock and said, “Be very careful. Now you two go sit on the couch.”
I sat in one of the chairs and said, “OK, who wants to talk first?”
The two from Central Casting said nothing. Simpson considered the situation. Before he could open his mouth, his assistant Larry had grabbed open a desk drawer, reached inside and pulled out a small .22 pistol. It was a pea shooter but could do damage at close range.
I turned toward him, and before he could say anything, shot the “toy” out of his hand. Larry screamed and fainted. I knew he was out of action.
Finally, Simpson said: “I guess I had better come clean. I was selling the plans to a consortium of ‘axis of evil’ countries. I was in way over my head.
“They were to transfer the money when I arrived in San Francisco. But it seems there was a triple-cross. Some of the partners wanted the plans for themselves. They jumped me at the airport. Now you know it all.”
“So this was all a falling-out among thieves,” I said. “I know what to do now.”
I picked up the phone and called Bill Vose – LAPD Captain, close family friend and Paulo’s godfather. Vose said he would be right over and bring some real feds.
Later, when Paul and Paulo walked into our office after returning from San Francisco, I was sitting at my desk, musing. They swaggered a bit, so I knew they had been successful.
Paulo put a check for $1,500 on the desk. I put a check for $2,000 on top of it.
The look on their faces told me that maybe I wouldn’t press so hard for retirement. That was kind of fun.