And so it begins
Episode Seven – Chapter 4 “Garages can be dangerous”
We made it back to the office unscathed and had the place swept for bugs. Except for the FBI plants, we seemed OK. Yes, the Feds had bugged our office, but as long as we knew it, it was OK. Our tech Wes turned on a jammer so the bug wouldn’t hear our conversation, and we got to work.
“First of all,” I said, “we double security. Shirley, call in all our operatives, put two on our and Paulo’s house, and one on each of us and two on the office, 24/7. They should report any suspicious activity and get involved only if it looks like there is danger to any of us. Maybe we can grab someone and sweat them for some answers.”
“Right” say Shirley. “In addition I think we should bring Bill in on this. He was at the meeting with Westerly at the FBI. He should know that bullets are flying in his patch.” Bill Vose was our closest friend, Paulo’s godfather, and a Captain in the LAPD.
“Perfect –I’ll call him when this meet is over. – Paulo, we need to find out all we can about our dead client, Theresa Salim. Head over to the SLS Hotel and see if you can get anything from the staff. You might be more successful starting at the bottom and working up. The maids and bell staff often know more than the managers.” Paul nodded his head. Paulo was very persuasive, particularly when it came to females. I like to think it’s my genes he’s carrying, but he’s much better than I ever was at his age. His “q quotient” was over the moon. (Google it).
“Shirley, we need to keep the place looking as normal as possible, and with all the operatives covering us, that could be a problem.”
“No sweat,” she said. “I’ve got this. I can run most of the open cases out of the office and any we have to handle in the field, I can take. My ‘shadow’ can simply be a partner on the case. You two press it.”
I was surprised. Shirley doesn’t usually roll over so easily. Ever sense she showed Paulo and me up in that case last summer, she has been itching to get into the field. I wonder if this has anything to do with that subtext she had going with the FBI Agent in Charge for LA, Sharon Westerly. I had caught just a hint of something between them. I was concerned that Shirley didn’t want to share it, but if she didn’t, I was going to trust her. I have trusted her with my life and no time to stop now. She would tell me when she was ready. Right?
Paulo and Shirley went to begin their tasks and I called Bill Vose at the LAPD. I filled him in and he said that he would up the patrols around our office and houses. I hung up and turned off the jammer. OK the FBI could hear what it was like in a professional detective office. Maybe they could learn something.
I began to review the case in my mind. First the rather strange phone call from Salim, then the meeting on the roof of a garage near the Grove in LA, then finding her dead and before we could do much of anything the FBI swooping in and taking over the case. They had been following her to our meeting and had lost her. During the time between that brilliant move and Paulo and me arriving at the meeting, she had been killed and her body propped up behind the wheel of her car.
Weatherly of the FBI, who seemed to know virtually everything about Manning Investigations, and our personal lives, ‘invited’ us to a meet at the LA FBI office and recruited us to help run down Salim’s killers and thus, perhaps a terrorist plot of some kind.
OK I’m up to date. What next?
Vose told me that bullets that had been fired at us were sniper grade, but fired at close range. Snipers like to burrow in a mile or so from the target then fire when ready. This was different. He could easily have hit us but didn’t. Trying to scare us off. The FBI knew that wasn’t possible, but this group obviously didn’t know the Manning clan very well. All they succeeded in doing was royally piss us off.
So they were strangers to LA, at least to the LA crime scene. We could check all our usual sources, but I knew that wasn’t going to turn up much. We needed a string to pull, to begin to unravel.
I was restless. I knew we had to make something happen. Sitting back and waiting wasn’t our style. Paulo and Shirley were stirring the pot a bit. Now I had to pick up a spoon and join the crew.
I left the office and headed for the garage where we ‘met’ Theresa Salim. 20 seconds after I pulled out I spotted my tail, the one Shirley put on me. He wasn’t obvious, but of course I knew his car. After a minute, he pulled back a few cars and just stayed with me.
I entered the garage and headed up the speed ramp to the roof. It was clear. So was the weather. The Santa Ana Winds were blowing and you could see a million miles. I’m sure the stock photographers were out in force, many in helicopters, taking Chamber of Commerce pictures of LA.
I parked, walked to the escalator and headed down into the Grove. I made Will, our operative, park on the floor beneath the roof. He got out when he saw me and fell in behind, about 100 feet away. He was dressed casually, just like someone coming to shop in one of the truly upscale malls in LA.
I had just turned onto the escalator on the second floor when I spotted him. He was tall, about 6’2” or so, slim, and I know it’s a cliché, but swarthy. He didn’t stand out in the Grove, since half the people there were from “Persia” or some other country in the Middle East. What caught my eye was that he was trying too hard to be “casual.” Just as Han Solo told Chewy to “fly casual,” this guy was walking ‘casual.’ I wonder if Will picked him up, too.
I got to the first floor and headed out to the Apple Store. I felt pretty sure I could make a call there, from one of their phones, as a “test” without being tagged by the Feebies. Sure enough an Apple Genius was happy to loan me his latest iPhone. I called Paulo. He was 10 minutes away at the SLS.
I spent eight of those 10 being pitched by some kid with a ring in his nose who knew more about computers and phones than I ever would. I untangled myself from the Apple Tree and strolled up to the fountain with Sinatra belting out “My Way” in the background. I leaned on the railing and spoke softly, not turning my head.
“Did you make him?”
“Tall swarthy guy in the linen suit?”
“Why don’t we ask him a few questions?”
Paulo went one direction, I went another. Will saw what was happening and laid back. The tail followed me and Paulo circled around. I went into the garage and up the escalator. I got off on the floor below the roof and fiddled with the payment machine. I was muttering under my breath about parking and credit cards when our mark hit the floor. He wasn’t expecting to see me and turned and found Paulo 10 feet behind him.
I grabbed his arm. Paulo and Will joined
He smiled, did something with his teeth, and suddenly we smelled almonds. Curiouser and Curiouser.
To be continued.
Read all of Private Investigator Paul Manning’s adventures – past and present – online at the Parking Today website
(www.parkingtoday.com), under the “Magazine” tab.